Review: Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal

Posted 26 August, 2014 by Pushy in Blog, Book Review, Bookworms, Featured, Heather, Heather Book Review, Pushy, Pushy Book Review / 5 Comments

I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review:  Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette KowalValour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal
Series: The Glamourist Histories
Published by Tor on April 29th 2014
Genres: Adult, Espionage, Europe, Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Historical, Historical Romance, Love & Romance
Pages: 408
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
4.5 Stars

Acclaimed fantasist Mary Robinette Kowal has enchanted many fans with her beloved novels featuring a Regency setting in which magic--known here as glamour--is real. In Valour and Vanity, master glamourists Jane and Vincent find themselves in the sort of a magical adventure that might result if Jane Austen wrote Ocean's Eleven.

After Melody's wedding, the Ellsworths and Vincents accompany the young couple on their tour of the continent. Jane and Vincent plan to separate from the party and travel to Murano to study with glassblowers there, but their ship is set upon by Barbary corsairs while en route. It is their good fortune that they are not enslaved, but they lose everything to the pirates and arrive in Murano destitute.

Jane and Vincent are helped by a kind local they meet en route, but Vincent is determined to become self-reliant and get their money back, and hatches a plan to do so. But when so many things are not what they seem, even the best laid plans conceal a few pitfalls. The ensuing adventure is a combination of the best parts of magical fantasy and heist novels, set against a glorious Regency backdrop.

Pushy:  Can I just start this review out with a WOW!?!  I didn’t think we could get down to a deeper level with Vincent and Jane after Without A Summer and then BAM!  Valour and Vanity just floored me!  After the last book, where the focus was shifted onto the dynamic of Jane and Vincent’s work and Jane’s relationship with Melody, it was nice to have this book be focused just on Jane and Vincent.  And, like with Glamour In Glass, the added element of the intrigue tested their marital dynamic in ways I couldn’t have expected!  What did you think, Heather?

Heather: I’m just amazed at the depths that Mary Robinette Kowal gives us with Jane and Vincent’s relationship. Their relationship has always been on more of an equal footing than most marriages for this time period, and for the first time in this book, the power skews more towards Jane.

Pushy:  Agreed!  And what’s more amazing is that she balances this pivotal part of the series against the varied and amazing backdrop of this particular books story.   

Heather: Jane and Vincent have been invited to stay with Lord Byron while they try a new technique with glassblowers in Murano. But on the ship voyage over, they are hit by Pirates and left paperless and pennyless in Venice. Taken in by a seemingly generous and nice banker, things don’t go their way and they have to stay in Venice for many weeks as they try to straighten out their situation. Jane was able to find work at a local convent teaching music and glamour, but Vincent has a much harder time trying to scrape together a living.

Pushy:  It was heartbreaking the way their situation affected Vincent so deeply!! I felt incredibly sad for him, knowing how this was tied up with his father’s treatment of him and his gift during his childhood, but at the same time, it was hard for me to accept just how low these months in Venice brought Vincent.  I kept thinking, “COME ON, VINCENT!!!  You guys can DO THIS!!!”

Heather: As the months ticked by, Jane flourished but Vincent grew more distant as they barely scraped by. It was so touch and go there for a while, I totally thought that they might not make it. I was almost cursing and saying “You can’t do this to me!”

Pushy:  I know!!!  For the first time since the first book, I couldn’t tell if they were going to make it through this with their marriage in tact!

Heather: But what did you think about Jane and Vincent gathering together the nuns from the convent along with his puppeteer friend to track down who really stole all of their money and spheres? It was quite the twisting and turning adventure!

Pushy:  The mystery aspect of the story really had me going!!  I admit that there were several moments when I couldn’t distinguish friend from foe!  And there were many instances I thought Jane and Vincent would be done for!  Mary Robinette Kowal did an amazing job of keeping the tension ratcheted up throughout!!

Heather: There were so many times that I thought Vincent and Jane were clearly up a creek and the bad guys had them cornered, but then someone turned out to not be bad and saved them. Whew! What a ride! I loved every single word.

Pushy:  And what’s next for our fair couple?  The final book in the series, Of Noble Family, has a cover (GORGEOUS) and a synopsis which tells that Jane and Vincent’s long unfulfilled wish for a child may be satisfied at last!  That in itself, the fact that Jane’s work is partially behind her inability to have a child, is a tension that I as a working mother have been fascinated by.  In today’s world we’re told we can have it all: perfect families, professional success, deeply fulfilling personal lives, but the reality is many times we feel like we’re doing too many things poorly.  But in Jane’s age, the ideal was for a woman to subjugate her personal wants and desires entirely to the needs of her family.  Neither seems perfect, but it’s interesting that it’s a tension that resonates today.  I’m very much looking forward to how Jane and Vincent handle this in their upcoming, and final??, adventure!

Heather: I can’t wait for this final book too! The struggle between career and motherhood is something that I’ve experienced too, and I can’t wait to see how this will be handled in the final installment.



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5 Responses to “Review: Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal”

  1. I’ve seen this book on a lot of places and still haven’t read it! I need to just buckle down and do it, but I haven’t really heard much for certain on whether people like it. Sounds like you gals did, and our tastes often align. I’ll add this one on the ol’ Goodreads TBR now, definitely.
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    Heather 8/28/2014

    These books just keep getting better and better, Katie! I’m not much of a Jane Austen fan, but I really enjoy these books. Definitely check Mary Robinette Kowal’s series out!
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  2. Aw, look at you ADORABLE girls! This is such a fun review — I love how you two bounce off one another in your excitement. Vincent sounds like someone I really need to meet.
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    Heather 8/28/2014

    Thanks, Mary! I love doing these joint reviews with Pushy too! This is a really great series, and there’s only one more book to go before it’s complete at five books if you’re waiting until The Glamourist Histories is finished before you start reading 🙂
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