Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Sunday, April 20, 2014



“Shades of Milk and Honey is precisely the sort of tale we would expect from Jane Austen, if she lived in a world where magic worked.” This is how the Shades of Milk and Honey is described on the back cover of the book. So I picked this book hoping to dive into a romantic historical fantasy world with deep characters.

The story is about Jane Ellsworth, 28 years old plain woman who is a skilled glamourist with no hope for a marriage due to her plain features. Her younger sister, Melody is gifted with beauty and charm. The two sisters became jealous at each other when they began their hunt for eligible men, especially for Mr. Dunkirk. With the arrival of Mr. Vincent, Jane and her skills of glamour gets more attention which makes Melody unsecured of herself leading to a tragic mistake of love and judgment. Throughout this drama, there is beauty woven into each scene with the touch of magic to enhance the art.

What’s most refreshing about Shades of Milk and Honey is how easily Kowal manages to weave the magic into the familiar setting of Regency England without witches, wizards or black magic. Magic is a craft, a skill to be learned and practice, and it is a normal skill as cooking or sewing, which must be mastered by women to accomplish themselves. There is nothing so special about glamour or magic. It is simply something that use to enhance the art and decorate the upper class lifestyle. It can be used to give a little life to a painting by making the hair move in the wind, or to decorate a dining room, or to produce a beautiful music, or to change someone’s appearance. The magic in this book is simply mystical and beautiful. Apart the fact that magic burns the energy in human body, it is not dangerous at all.

Though the glamour is so charming, the story lacks deep characters, romance, memorable heroes and heroines. Jane is a wonderful, interesting, intelligent character though her self-doubt and the comparison to her sister’s beauty is slightly irritating. I would’ve preferred more words developing the relationship between Jane and Mr. Vincent, and more romance bubbles around them. It would have given more romantic atmosphere to the story. However, Melody reminds me of those girls who has so much beauty and do everything to get in the middle of everyone’s attention using silly dramas despite improving their skills and patience. Mr. Dunkirk is a decent gentlemen, an overprotective brother, and he can be easily manipulated. His sister, Beth, is a dreamy girl who always believes in true love. And Captain Livingston is a villainous gentleman after a handsome dowry. The relationships with these characters are quite predictable and dull. I knew from the start that Captain Livingston cannot be trusted, and the mysterious Mt. Vincent is definitely going to be the better half of Jane.

The comparison between Kowal’s work and Jane Austen’s work is inevitable since Kowal tribute this debut to Jane Austen. The world of Shadow of Milk and Honey is a combination of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma; Nervous mother, worried father, a sense governed elder sister, beautiful and passionate younger sister, secret engagements, rakish villainous gentlemen, sprained ankles, and misunderstandings. But Shades of Milk and Honey lacks the depth characters which we deeply dived in Jane Austen novels as well as heart wrenching, dreamy romance that we still fantasize in Jane Austen Novels. However, attempt to imitate Jane Austen’s style is no easy task and Kowal manages to skillfully duplicate Jane Austen’s style with the dash of magic.

Even though the story lacks a depth plot as well as the characters, it is a charming story that can be enjoyed in the summer light with a “… and they lived happily ever after” ending. Despite the silly attempt to deeply dive into the characters and the plot, I enjoyed the writing, the setting and the simple story. This is a perfect magical, historical fiction to relax in a sunny day with a good cup of coffee.

My Rating: 3 out of 5


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