Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review: Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Jane Ellsworth is a 28-year-old single woman in an alternative Regency-era England where magic is commonplace, and viewed as another "womanly art," similar to drawing or music. She and her younger sister Melody, as most of the young women of the time period are portrayed, are very preoccupied by their marital status and the interest of the eligible bachelors.

I was disappointed in this book. I've really come to appreciate good chick lit, and the entire time I was reading Shades of Milk and Honey, I kept thinking that it was so similar to Pride and Prejudice, except that it was a pale imitation. The characters really missed the mark for me. Jane Ellsworth and her younger sister Melody (and pretty much everyone else) are simple, flat characters that the author seems to have pulled out of a book of basic character types. Jane is the plain but talented one who's resigned to spinsterhood, and Melody is the pretty but vapid one, and each of them are envious of the other's blessings. Their mother is sickly and obsessed with marrying them off, their father is beneficent but distant, etc., etc. I did identify with Jane a little bit. I'm the older daughter in my family, and I used to be jealous of my sister's model-worthy good looks while she envied my singing voice and artistic abilities. Except that we got over that when we were teenagers. I'll remind you that Jane is 28 years old, and her sister is in her early 20s. I'm just not sure if I believe their behavior was realistic. Beyond that, Jane's romantic story line was completely confusing. The love interest didn't have much screen time, and I only remember one extremely ambiguous and extremely brief description of what he even looked like. There was no tension between the two, just ambivalence and a mild quizzical feeling, so when they were suddenly in love, I felt like I should be flipping back through the chapters looking for when that happened.

All of that said, I did finish the book in one day, so it wasn't all bad. I liked the world that Kowal created, and her magic system was interesting, albeit without depth or purpose. Magic has so many possible useful applications, other than decoration, that could have been (but were not) explored. I feel like this whole book was like that. Enjoyable and mildly interesting, but without the real depth and social commentary that was present in Austen's books.

With some reservation, I would recommend this book to someone looking for very light reading set in a Regency-era England with magic.

Rating: 3 stars

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