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Goat Heads and Sand Burrs, P. Kirby's Reading Blog

The good, bad, and fugly books I've read.
Shades of Milk and Honey - Mary Robinette Kowal My first impression would be "a Regency novel for people who don't like Jane Austen." Which is probably the opposite of how it's being marketed, but I found it readable and I'm NOT a fan of Austen.

I've tried to read Pride and Prejudice, with and without zombies, and never made it beyond five pages without wanting to gouge my eyes out with spoon. Maybe it's the archaic use of "tell" rather than "show." Or perhaps it's the endless blather about protocol, propriety and the underlying misogyny that makes the storytelling anything but "romantic." Yeah, the dresses are pretty, and who doesn't love a guy in a a suit, but what's the point if you can't hold hands without the neighbors having vapors?

Shades of Milk and Honey comes fully equipped with most historical conventions. A woman's primary vocations are sewing pretty things, makin' babies, and finding the right matrimonial match for her offspring. There's the expected hand wringing over propriety: apparently Regency men had the ability to destroy a hymen by simply spending an unchaperoned minute with a virgin. The novel, however, dispenses with the reams of exposition regarding social status, bloodlines, etc., and gets on with the storytelling. This is where it's the antithesis of a Jane Austen novel; it's a downright breezy and quick read.

And...there's magic. In this version of Regency England, the estate set can further their reputations and standing with magical glamours. Most women are taught to do rudimentary glamour work, as are a few men. I guess, spell casting is necessary in the absence of Home Depot or the Home Shopping Network. Need prettier curtains? With the right bit of glamour you can freshen those ugly drapes right up. Room stale? Add the scent of the ocean. (I wonder if there's a spell for eliminating dog or cat hair?)

I admit, it's kind of cool.

The book's weakness is that, despite the unique, "glamorous" trappings, it's a bland, trope-y romance. Jane is "supposedly" the unattractive older sister. Gifted with an extraordinary ability with glamour, she has nonetheless resigned herself to spinsterhood. While other women use glamour to enhance their looks, Jane is above that sort of thing. Okay, she has a point. Eventually, your mate will see what the real you looks like. But then, that doesn't exactly stop modern women from using makeup and other enhancements. For the most part, it's money and other problems that are the bane of modern marriages, not that first morning when he sees you without your war paint.

Anyway, a few pages in, and it's obvious that at least one man is interested in Jane. It's glaringly obvious and Jane's denials, which continue throughout the book, get old fast. There's a love triangle, but the absence of any decent sexual tension, flattens its geometry. One of Jane's suitors is dull and foppish; the other, distant, rude*, and given too little description to catch this reader's interest. (*And un-funny. I love a funny jerk. This one isn't.) Stuck with a hypochondriac mother; a vapid, selfish sister; and a henpecked father, Jane's role is to be accommodating. To the point where her acquisition of a backbone at the end is a smidgen too quick and a little unbelievable.

Nevertheless, I powered through this one in a few days. I know. A lot of my reviews grumble about novels that go on too long. Here, I take the opposite tack; this story, particularly the character interactions, needed expanding.