Shades of Milk and Honey
Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor (304 pp, $14.99, trade edition June 2011)
Reviewed by Josh Wimmer
If you have read anything about Shades of Milk and Honey, then you have seen it described as “Jane Austen, but with magic” or something along those lines. That is pretty much unavoidable. The novel, the first by Hugo nominee Mary Robinette Kowal, isn’t just written in a style and voice resembling that of the British author’s Regency-era romances, but also features sisters – one pretty, one smart – yearning for suitable suitors; a low-key but loving father who wants to see his girls married because he can’t provide for them forever; a cavalcade of potential husbands of various sorts; and a lot of house parties. In other words, the book takes plenty from Pride and Prejudice and the rest of Austen’s oeuvre.
What it adds is a mild but meaningful undercurrent of fantasy, and a slightly more modern-day message than might be found in the early-19th-century works that inspired it. Jane Ellsworth is unmarried and, at age 28, likely to remain that way. To recommend her, she has her wits, her emotional steadiness, and her skill with glamour – the magical crafting of visual and audible illusions, typically for aesthetic purposes. All fine qualities, but perhaps not enough to make up for her plain appearance (which Jane resolutely and admirably refuses to enhance with glamour).