Blog Archive

View My Stats
Saturday, August 7, 2010

"Shades of Milk and Honey" by Mary Robinette Kowal (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Mary Robinette Kowal Website
Order "Shades of Milk and Honey" HERE

INTRODUCTION: I have been very interested in "Shades of Milk and Honey" for several reasons. I love Pride and Prejudice and read it countless times across the years as well as watching pretty much all its screen adaptations, while Elizabeth Bennett led my list of non-sff interesting female fictional characters.

I also heard many good things about Ms. Kowal's short stories and as this was her debut novel, it was a must. I got the book on its publication day and read it in an afternoon and while I liked it and I think the praise Ms. Kowal is getting for her writing talent is well deserved, I also felt the novel could have been much more; this way it is just very light summer reading.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "Shades of Milk and Honey" stands at about 300 pages divided into 26 chapters that have an interesting naming convention that suggests their contents. The novel is situated in a faux-Regency England countryside of the early 1800's but the outside world does not impinge on it almost at all.

While there is fantasy in the novel, it is basically inessential to its structure except in allowing a girl like the heroine and main POV Jane to "shine" by more than beauty in a patriarchal society, so I would classify "Shades of Milk and Honey" as light (alt) historical romance.

ANALYSIS: When reading "Shades of Milk and Honey" we have to accept its conventions to judge it: for example there is no outside world impact except in vague mentions about money and dowry, everyone of note is well off and/or a gentleman/lady, girls have as their main goal in life want to marry - and after marriage I guess to gossip about society and raise a family - men go hunting and court girls and so on...

There is no world building as such, just the above mentioned conventions from countless period pieces and magic called "glamour" which in the book is used for art and seemingly nothing else, though there is an episode where a servant appears that makes ice using glamour.

There is no hint of how glamour affects the workings of society and essentially the novel is just concerned with the relationships between the main characters, the two Ellsworth sisters, Jane - the main heroine and POV - and Melody, Edmund and Beth - the rich brother and sister Dunkirk - and the Lady FitzCameron household, including her daughter, her nephew Captain Livingston and the glamour artist hired to redecorate their mansion, Mr. Vincent.

Jane is very talented at glamour but she is considered plain and despite the dowry her father is amassing on her behalf she reached 28 without being married and she is almost resigned to "spinsterhood". Melody, 10 years younger and extremely beautiful turns every man's head but she resents Jane for her talent.

"Shades of Milk and Honey" is very well written and the narrative flows well keeping one turning pages to see what happens.The dialogue is witty and Jane works very well as a heroine with her conflicting priorities of protecting Melody and later Beth who is even younger and more naive versus looking for her own personal interests like excelling at glamour, or even having a hint of romance of her own.

"Shades of Milk and Honey" (A-) has no real rough edges and no tension outside the romantic intrigues. The author has considerable writing talent and I really hope she will use it to write a more interesting and deeper novel than what is essentially a very light novel that epitomizes "beach reading" for me.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree! Haven't finished the book yet but am realizing that I should have read up more on it before buying - I was expecting a little more depth and adventure. The magic seems to have been thrown in as a minor, inessential point of interest, completely unnecessary to the story because there were plenty of other skills in that period that made a woman attractive regardless of her appearance.

I definitely got the Pride and Prejudice *with a twist* feeling, and admired Kowal's knowledge of the period, but Elizabeth Bennett seemed a much more interesting character than Jane - Elizabeth was willing to break rules, to be sassy and rebellious, and (so far) Jane seems marked by her steadfast commitment to propriety and right behaviour.

Like you said, you have to judge the book based on its living up to what it actually IS, not what you'd like it to be - and this is definitely a light romance that just happens to have some magic in it. Next time I too hope for some more adventure and depth!

Follow by Email


Click Here To Order “The Boy Who Walked Too Far” by Rob J. Hayes!!!

Order HERE


Click Here To Order “Spit And Song” by Travis M. Riddle!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “The Arkhel Conundrum” by Sarah Ash!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “The Company Of Birds” by Nerine Dorman!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “The True Bastards” by Jonathan French!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “Rumble In Woodhollow” by Jonathan Pembroke!!!
Order HERE