Title: Shades of Milk and Honey
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Recommendation: Victorian-era novel in the style of Jane Austen with an addition of magic.
Summary: Jane Ellsworth starts to reconcile herself with becoming an old maid. She is talented in the way of painting, music, and glamour, but is rather plain in appearance. Her sister, Melody, is much younger and prettier social butterfly who attracts men. With the arrival of new guests to the country, the Elsworth sisters' lives become much more exciting.
Reactions: This book has been mentioned to me as similar to The Magicians and Mrs. Quent and having seen several good reviews for it, I decided to give it a try.
Overall, it was a quick and easy read for me. I enjoyed the quick prose and the Victorian atmosphere of the novel. There is banter, balls, gossip, and scandals as any might expect of such a book. The only reason this book is marked fantasy is due to its introduction of glamour: a magic used primarily by women to enhance room decor, music, lighting, and art. In all other ways, this is a Victorian romance.
I think the only reason I did not wholeheartedly enjoy the novel were some of the problems with characters. Jane is obviously accomplished and talented, but spends all her time wishing for her sister's beauty, blind to attentions of others. Her sister mostly acts as a reasonable person, but every so often turns into a complete fool without any reason. Beth is not the brightest bulb in the bouquet either. Overall, none of the characters felt satisfying to me and all of them did something completely out of character at one point or another. It felt like the novel was just a hair breadth away from being excellent, but didn't quite get there.
The ending, while satisfying, was somewhat unexpected and left some points of matter unanswered. It also came about somewhat quickly and I thought the author should have put in a better groundwork for the romance.
Nevertheless, it's a solid Victorian romance, easy to read and with good dialogue that I would recommend as light reading to fans of authors such as Austen or Bronte. It's much lighter on fantasy than The Magicians and Mrs. Quent though and the whole fantasy aspect while solidly introduced into the world could be easily digested by a non-fantasy reader