I loved this book.
Take that either as a disclaimer or a standalone review. Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal is something unexpected. In a genre dominated by adventure, action and science, it’s refreshing to read a simple Victorian romance.
Shades of Milk and Honey takes place in a world very much like that of Pride and Prejudice. The characters are young women deeply concerned with marriage and bound by the strict rules of propriety that dominate their lives. Oh, and the magic, which they refer to as glamour.
The use of magic could have overwhelmed the rest of this novel, if Kowal had let it. Instead, being skilled in the art of glamour is another skill a young lady is expected to have. They use it much as the young ladies of Jane Austen might have used music, dancing or riding horses. It enhances their world, adds color and life to their surroundings and entertains people at parties. It’s also used to cover up embarrassments.
This story could have been written without the magic, but it really fills out the characters and brings life to the setting. Magic also moves the plot along, but it doesn’t take over the novel and become a character itself. The use of magic provides the characters with insights and allows them to develop bonds that might have passed them by without it.
I found the main character extremely engaging, even if her approach to the world can be a little frustrating. The romantic situations that develops around her are interesting and they develop naturally, without feeling forced. In the end, it felt like the characters were exactly where they needed to be.
I highly recommend it.