This new type of fantasy appears to be all the rage: take a romance, fold in liberal amounts of fantastic elements, be they magic, zombies, or vampires, and, hey presto! a new potboiler. A lot of them are fun, like Gail Carriger’s stories of the Parasol Protectorate, or Naomi Novik’s excellent Temeraire series. However, since they are so much fun, everyone seems to be in on the act, from established writers to fairly green Newbies. Mary Robinette Kowal is hardly a newcomer, and her story Shades of Milk and Honey reflects skill and polish.
Jane Ellsworth, going on 29, is plain and has resigned herself to spinsterhood, when events conspire to bring not one, but two suitors into her life. Her younger sister Melody is beside herself with jealousy.
These are the makings of your typical Victorian romance. What makes this story something other than a venture into sensibilities and tastes of a bygone age is that Jane is quite an accomplished glamourist - a person skilled at creating illusions from the ether.
As you can see from the story’s setup, its elements are practically rote. The story wouldn’t be remarkable if it weren’t for the skill that Kowal applies in putting all of the required elements in place, without making the entire business seem contrived.
Quite a bit like an accomplished glamourist, I’d say.
Anyway, like all Victorian romances, this one has the appropriate amount of upset and quandary, and finishes off with a proper happy ending. If you’re going to read it, it’ll be not for something entirely new, but for something familiar but well done. Afterwards, you might have a strong hankering for re-reading Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
I did enjoy the story a lot. I wish it hadn’t been so short.