Tuesday, June 12, 2012
by Mary Robinette Kowal
I have got to get this review finished and posted. Seriously. I read this book almost a month ago, and have since been on a bit of a tear (besides this book, I have four others waiting for review too. Well, and I'm counting seven volumes of manga as one book, so...)
I'm continuing to read, sort of wandering where my moods take me. I felt like a re-read of Shades of Milk and Honey, wanting the blend of Regency manners and magic and unable to find my copy of Sorcery and Cecelia (never fear, it has since been located.) The Kowal is a little more authentic anyway, so it was a good choice. I loved it the first time around, so went ahead and got myself a copy for the Kobo, and saw at the same time that Glamour in Glass, the sequel that Cecelia first indicated to me was coming, had indeed arrived. So, yes, I bought that too. Nothing can quite match an e-reader for instant gratification when it comes to book purchasing. Still not sure I actually feel like I own the books, though. I mean, I know they're there for me to read right now when I want them, but Jean-Luc PiKobo crashed the other day, just in case I needed a reminder that ebooks aren't permanent. The crash was minor but the warning was well-taken.
Shades of Milk and Honey was at least as good the second time around; I'm not going to re-review it, as I barely have the time to review first reads. And from here on in there will be some pretty major spoilers for Shades, so... if you haven't read it and intend to, do that first.
I really enjoyed being back in the alternate history that Kowal created for Shades. She's moved out of England for this one, giving the reader a look at what life was like elsewhere -- in particular, Belgium just before Napoleon's return. Jane and Vincent are kind of on a honeymoon, kind of on a visit to one of Vincent's colleagues and friends on the Continent, M. Chartrain, and kind of working on commissions for glamours. Only not everything is quite as it appears; Napoleon may be down but he's not out, Vincent's acting strangely, and things go awry for Jane quickly.
I particularly loved two things about this book: first, I love that Kowal keeps Jane consistent. She's a product of her time, and has some conventions and ideas that feel foreign to me as a woman in 2012. Which is exactly as it should be. She's not an exceptional woman, exactly, except where she earns it; she is fierce and intelligent and therefore able to break the mold of what is expected of her as a Regency female when it's necessary, but when she does that she's bitterly uncomfortable. In this way, this book feels more realistic than many non-fantasy books I've read set in the Regency period. I'd love to talk more about this, but to be honest, I'm pretty sure I'm not up to the task.
Second, I love that Kowal can introduce tension in a romantic relationship without having one or both parties be completely stupid. This is a problem I have with many romance novels: the conflict between the hero and heroine often feels contrived, and the resulting romantic moments are exasperating rather than sweet because of that. Here it absolutely does not feel contrived; the conflict is low-key and incredibly realistic, the resulting romance satisfying, and one doesn't end up feeling like Jane and Vincent made a mistake in marrying each other. When the conflict escalates, it's for reasons that make sense for who both Jane and Vincent are.
I can't talk much more about things I thought about while reading without some major, major spoilers. Suffice to say that I think Kowal dealt well with a particular topic that can be fraught, she didn't make light of it, nor was it melodramatic. It was an integral part of the story without being heavy-handed, and Jane's emotional, private battle with herself was well-handled. I was pretty impressed.
Glad I read them, glad I bought them. I can see a re-read in the future, as I enjoyed them so much. Smart, entertaining, occasionally moving, gently romantic, always interesting... lots of good reasons to read these books.