I found myself proclaiming to my friends that I’d found ‘the perfect book’ yesterday. I didn’t mean that it was THE perfect book for all time and all people. I did mean that I’d found the book that feels as if it was written expressly for me, because it fits my tastes perfectly. And luckily for the rest of you, it’s also well-written, so there’s a chance that you’ll find it just as enchanting as I did.
Shades of Milk and Honey is an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a version of Regency England where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. But despite the prevalence of magic in everyday life, other aspects of Dorchester’s society are not that different: Jane and her sister Melody’s lives still revolve around vying for the attentions of eligible men.
Jane resists this fate, and rightly so: while her skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face, and therefore wins the lion’s share of the attention. At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Jane has resigned herself to being invisible forever. But when her family’s honor is threatened, she finds that she must push her skills to the limit in order to set things right – and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.
Shades of Milk and Honey is precisely the sort of tale we would expect from Jane Austen…if she had lived in a world where magic worked.
Kowal employs lyrical prose that engages all the senses. I could smell, taste, hear and see the living art contained in her work. Simply put, it is beautiful.
Reviewers are correct in that the setting of Shades of Milk and Honey corresponds to an observation of manners that Austen also featured in her work. It isn’t actually Austen, obviously. It won’t read the same way. But that doesn’t mean that Shades won’t please some Austen fans – it will. It’s reminiscent of Georgette Heyer as well, featuring an elegance of language and phrasing that reminds one of the brilliance of early 20th century minds (and the superiority of their educations).
It is not perfect – no. I don’t want to give anyone such an exalted view that they are let down when they read it for themselves. There are certain plot elements and characters that Austen readers will recognize straight off. But coming to the book as I did from the extremely high praise and recommendation of Elitist Book Reviews (whose taste I trust in almost all matters), I expected beauty, cleverness, and a certain luminous quality. I got all that and more. I felt sublimely entertained and edified at the same time. I feasted my senses and nourished my soul.
But there we go again into sacred territory. Let me explain: it’s perhaps not that it’s SO wonderful, but that it fed two very important parts of me, and a fiction book hasn’t done that in a long time. I’ve most probably been reading the wrong things, or expecting that edification is only the provenance of non-fiction. But it seems to me that good books, really good ones in both an ethical and literary sense, aren’t popular anymore. Modern reads always seem to have something to dissuade me: too much sex, too much violence, a credo or character that I can’t respect. This book skipped the objectionable, but held my interest. It taught me something, but didn’t feel like anything beyond a beautiful pastime while I read it. It was like a well-loved Alcott or L.M. Montgomery tale, without the obvious moralizing.
Oh, and it is so gorgeous! I have cover love to the nth degree, but the words inside and the book design itself…all conspire to make this one of the most beautiful and subtle and yet wonderful things I’ve seen in…ever. The only way I could have loved it more is if there were actual gilded edges. And I’m kind of glad there weren’t, just so that I won’t feel too precious about lending it out. Because this IS the sort of book I will evangelize for without any qualms.
Recommended for: historical fiction and subtle fantasy fans, Regency-era devotees, readers who view Austen as the comfort food of the book world, and anyone looking for a beautiful read with strong art overtones and a classic feel.
I'm giving away two copies of this book, because I loved it, and I want other people to love it too. Also, when I tried to buy it at Borders I found that they’re not carrying it in stores. Travesty! UPDATE: Author Mary Robinette Kowal is completely awesome and is sending SIGNED bookplates for each winner. Hurrah!
Leave a comment on this post with a word or phrase that makes you think of milk or honey. Synonyms, colors, associations, whatever you want – write it down!
Please include a method of contact. Giveaway is open internationally. Comments will close on September 15 at 11:59pm EST, and I will notify the randomly selected winners via email.