My rating: 3 of 5 stars
My first book of 2012 is a good strong start: Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey, which I’ve been meaning to read for some time.
Much has been made over this novel being the “fantasy novel Jane Austen would have written”, and to an extent, I do agree with that. I could certainly see Austen, had she thought to use magic in the stories she wrote, using it the way Kowal does–as a womanly art, employed to enhance the illusion of beauty on a painting, in a room, in an entire house, or even upon a person. Yet at the same time, a comparison to Austen is inevitably going to be a burden against which many books, worthy in their own right, are going to struggle. For my money, Kowal’s prose didn’t quite resonate the same way Austen’s did. Yet this is not to say it’s bad, for it is most assuredly not. I very much enjoyed the read.
I’ve seen Shades of Milk and Honey called out for not having enough of substance going on, that it focuses upon the relationships between the characters and lacks Austen’s social commentary. For me, this charge is unfair; I certainly noted multiple points throughout the book that read as social commentary, such as our heroine’s disdain for the notion of using her talents at glamour to make her nose smaller. Moreover, while most of these characters did not come across to me with the same force as oh, say, the cast of Pride and Prejudice–though yet again, many otherwise worthy novels would suffer in comparison to that particular book–I am honorbound to point out that that very novel focuses quite a bit on the relationships between the characters. And the ultimate main plot does, indeed, come out of that. So too is the case with Shades of Milk and Honey. The eventual unmasking of a callous rogue in the cast livens up the end of the book considerably.
All in all my only lament about this novel is that the relationship between our heroine Jane and her eventual love lacks a certain force, at least at first. So to some readers, it may come across as completely out of the blue. Still, I did quite like this and am looking forward to the next one in the series. Three stars.