Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is my first experience with Mary Robinette Kowal, and I'll definitely be looking for more of her work. This is a lovely immersion into a world of "Jane Austen meets Susannah Clarke (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell)". It poses the question, "What if the gentler arts of early 19th century high society included a magical manipulation of the senses?" Picture, say, the Bennett sisters sitting doing their daily handiwork which might include embroidering underthings, knitting socks, pressing flowers, and using magic to brighten dull corners of a dark room with artfully placed lumination or add soft music to a dinner?
This tale quite charmingly evokes the tone, plot style, and romantic entanglements of any given Jane Austen novel. At the same time there are moments of interpersonal drama and even a little bit of high action toward the end to keep a modern reader entertained. Our heroine, in typical Austen fashion, is the sensible sister who has resigned herself to spinsterhood. Her younger sister is a full-on Maryanne Dashwood type: all emotions and selfish melodrama with suitors to spare. What will become of them? At right around 300 pages, it's not a huge time investment but enough to paint a detailed picture of English country life in the upper classes just after the beginning of the 19th century. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
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