The fantasy novel you’ve always wished Jane Austen had written, Shades of Milk and Honey is exactly what we could expect from Austen if she had been a fantasy writer: Pride and Prejudice meets Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It is an intimate portrait of a woman, Jane, and her quest for love in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality.
Jane and her sister Melody vie for the attentions of eligible men, and while Jane’s skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face.
When Jane realizes that one of Melody’s suitors is set on taking advantage of her sister for the sake of her dowry, she pushes her skills to the limit of what her body can withstand in order to set things right—and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.
©2010 Mary Robinette Kowal (P)2010 Macmillan Audio
Jane Austen with magic, but don't let that put you off - this is not Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, it is its own unique story.
In addition to painting and music, a young lady is expected to have mastered the art of glamour, to entertain guests and to decorate their home. In a plot owing a lot to Sense and Sensibility, yet having enough originality to keep it interesting, Kowal has woven a nineteenth century tale of love, talent, and manners. Jane is a plain spinster of 28, talented yet convinced that she is unlikely to ever find a husband, and resigned to this. Her sister Melody is everything she isn't: pretty, untalented, headstrong, and not very bright. Melody attracts trouble like bees to honey, and it is up to Jane to sort out the trouble while staying as proper as possible - and maybe finding her own happiness.
Mary Robinette Kowal does a good job of narrating, if you are concerned (as I usually am) about an author narrating their own work, put your concerns to rest: Kowal narrates professionally as well. I would give five stars for narration, except that she does not have a native English accent, and it sounded a bit forced at times - but it was consistent and easy on the ear, and she did a good job differentiating the characters.
While there are definitely elements of various other classic regencies here (Jane Austen and all that), the idea was to blend them together, along with the magic of glamour, to create a story that is entertaining because you want to see how it plays out. Not how it turns out mind you, that is a pretty foregone conclusion, but how it plays out. What are the various turns of the story to be? How will the characters react to the foreshadowed events? It was like watching a story one is familiar with redone in a truly engrossing way. I found that the story immersed me, and I wanted to see how the author was going to pull the various strands together.
I also found that the magic of glamour, which I think is central to the story, was perfectly suited for the era. For a society so wrapped up in appearances and concerned over image this was a perfectly suited form of magic to emphasize. It also allows a different take on some of the events we know are going to happen as the story plays along. The scene involving the "tableaux vivant" (won't give more details away in a review) for example smoothly integrates glamour into a historical parlor entertainment (dressing up and posing as a sort of living statue). That was a nice bit of setting detail, but the scene itself -- how the characters perform it and so forth -- says quite a lot about the characters involved as well. Overall, I thought "glamour" was a good selection for the author to make that was also quite well executed within the story.
The performance was also very good. I was interested in that it was the author performing the narration, and I think that added to the story (it doesn't always, but it did in this case). I am interested in seeing what other work the author has narrated.
I was a little worried that I wouldn't like this book, but overall I was pleasantly surprised. I'm not a complete Austen fangirl, but I love her writing enough that I would have been entirely put off if the characters, setting, etc, had seemed fake or over the top. The characters were familiar, but this was mostly a positive and only occasionally distracting. I liked the addition of glamour to the world, which was a relief as that could have easily ruined everything if not done well.
The author's reading was great, although the accent was a little distracting occasionally. I could tell when she'd had a break and started again, but she soon settled into the voices and I would forgot about it until the next time. Overall it gets better as you go along.
I listened to this recording all in one day, with only a couple of breaks. It was exactly what I needed that day, as I pottered around the house doing odd jobs and a bit of drawing. To begin with it was a nice backdrop to my other activities, but by the end it had drawn me in so I was sitting by the computer with my stomach in a knot, wanting a good outcome for my favourite characters.
Overall the author has taken on a concept which would have been very easy to do wrong, and has delivered an entertaining read/listen. I'm looking forward to her next book in this series being released on Audible, and hope she will be reading it herself.
Narration - I have listened to Mary Robinette Kowal on the Pod Cast Writing Excuses for a good many months now and I have heard mention of this book from there. While she may not have the skill as some of the other Narrators I've heard on Audible, she is by far nowhere near as bad as many are. If you enjoy the sample reading then you will likely find the Author's Reading of her book to be a wonderful way to enjoy this tale. I could close my eyes and picture myself listening to her weaving her tale as if I was too in a drawing room listening to a young lady read a passage from a book.
Story - This IS NOT a typical Romance novel. This is a very well done Jane Austin Style Romance Novel (not the movies, the novels ??? mostly anyhow). The men are not rushing about like half tamed barbarian taking off their shirts and delivery breathless kisses, etc. The author did a masterful job with setting this tale in the Jane Austin style while keeping it fresh enough that readers/listeners of this day and age will understand what is going on.
The plot deals with the two sisters, one plain with amazing talents in weaving/creating glamour and her sister who is younger, far lovelier and far less skilled with glamour. In the story we follow the troubles and dreams of the eldest, along with some interesting side characters including two or three possible suitors. (fun)
The use of glamour, while magical is not fashioned as a truly magically thing. It is common place in the world that is created in this book. Men and Women both have the ability to use it/see it in differing degrees. Some uses are as simple as helping to keep items cool or complex in the creation of stunning works of art.
The book (if a movie) would likely gain a G rating and does not contain anything explicate. I believe there is one reference to a kiss on the head.
All and all I would highly recommend this book for those people that enjoy the more subtle and proper times of the Jane Austin period of novels with a trace of magic thrown in to add a new and interesting twist to the world.
Pride and Prejudice meets Magic. I delayed reading this after I downloaded it, I should not have. This is a fantastic book for lovers of fantasy and the Regency error. Its easy to get lost in and not want to turn off, that is its only down side. I have to force myself to shut it off to sleep. Very anxious to hear the rest of the series.
Like Susanna Clarke (Ladies of Grace Adieu), Mary Robinette manages to gently weave magic into a historical world (and its distinctive mores) in a way that makes it feel right at home. Yet while Clark's work (which I love, but your milage may vary) takes a meandering route with Dickenesque descriptions and elaborate footnotes, Shades of Milk and Honey takes a much more direct approach.
Starting as a streamlined version of Austen's Pride and Prejudice (two sisters instead of five; a less caustic father-figure; a slightly less nuanced Darcy-figure; slightly less ornate language), the novel at first combines nostalgia with some delightfully sly magical tweaks. (Why are women always fainting in Austen novels? Because the illusion-magic that culture assigned to women is just so darn exhausting, of course!) Throw in the obligatory Artist who has utter disdain for social proprieties, genteel discussions of the Nature of Art, and ominous depictions of class tensions that lead to a climactic magic-and-bullets showdown, and you have a novel that is unique, pleasant, and thoroughly readable.
But the thing that really brought this together was Kowal's narration. It's always nice to hear an author read his or her own work, but Kowal's theatrical bakground shines. Jane's vapid-yet-lovable sister Melody particularly benefits from Kowal's performance--Kowal imbues her voice with the sort of energetic ignorance more commonly associated with American socialites from the 1920's, which goes a long way to both endear her to audiences and reveal the shallow facade required of women who have "nothing to recommend them other than their beauty."
To Read or Not To Read
My thoughts on the audio:
Shades of Milk and Honey is read by the author, Mary Robinette Kowal. She has a very pleasant voice that makes this story come alive. She reads each character with such care it makes it easy to visualize each scene. The audio length is 7 hours and 33 minutes. I enjoyed each minute of it.
Shades of Milk and Honey is a delightful book. It has intrigue, hints of romance, and great characters. So many of the characters in this book reminded me of some of Jane Austen's characters. This book was like sitting down with an new friend that you feel like you have known forever. I absolutely fell in love with this book. I can't wait to read more by this author.
This is a lovely, sweet story that was a joy to listen to. There is a wonderful sense of setting, and the characters are delightful. There is something special about having the author narrate the book - you know that you are going to hear the conversations the way they were imagined. (And it helps that Kowal is a very talented narrator in her own right.)
I highly recommend this, especially to fans of Jane Austen and the lighter fantasy romances.
A combination of Jane Austen favorite moments wound into a likable story done very well in the regency style.
jane, beth mr dunkurk and mr vincent. because they where likeable and very well developed.
an author knows how a book should be read and heard. her soft accent is fine.
I love Jane she is so uncomfortable with herself but preservers.
I will continue to listen to the series. It provides a suitable distraction!
While I enjoy reading Jane Austen's novels, I always miss the fantasy elements from my other favorite novels. This story has the fantasy elements that I always wanted in Pride and Prejudice. The story is sweet and engaging. Mary Robinette Kowal does an amazing job narrating her own story. I can't wait to listen to the next one!
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