Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

This is a hard book to rate – yes, it is well researched and reads like a book from the Regency period. It hasn’t been updated for modern vernacular like so many Austen homages. But at the same time, the wit, spark, and yes, magic, of Austen’s works are greatly missing here. So although this is a very mannered rehash of nearly every Austen work (throw all her characters into a hat, mix up their histories, and rewrite Sense and Sensibility) it never elevators into an enjoyable read. Having the author narrate the Audible version doesn’t help.


Story: Mousy Jane Ellsworth (aka Margaret Dashwood) and her emotional, petulant sister (aka Marianne Dashwood), like the same somewhat boring man (aka Edward Ferrars) who has a damaged younger sister (aka Georgiana Darcy). Jane is a talented glamourist – able to create intricate illusions but her sister, who only has beauty to her name, resents Jane. When the mysterious Mr. Vincent (aka Mr. Darcy) arrives on the scene making exquisite glamours, Jane is curious but his abrupt manner puts her off. Enter a cast of characters including a scheming lieutenant (aka Wickham) and you can guess what happens.

First and foremost, I was bothered by the magic itself. What should have been amazing was instead dull – and kind of pointless, too. If making pretty pictures was the best anyone could think to do with the talent (same as embroidery or singing), then that’s a sad indictment on the society. I believe someone figures out military tactical uses later – but really only because of Napoleon? In addition to the bland magic, the characters themselves were also very bland. Jane Ellsworth is a dowdy bore, her sister completely unlikable, and Vincent (Darcy) really unlikable. Where Darcy wins us over, Vincent never does, perhaps because Margaret is a wet towel lacking all of Elizabeth Bennet’s wit and witticisms.

As the story progresses, nothing happens. There’s a dinner. There’s some magic now and then, a picnic……but nothing to keep me returning to the page. Sadly, this dullness is sandwiched in solid writing that feels like it could have been from Austen’s time. But the homage falls flat when it is so literal in characterizations but without the smart character studies. Perhaps because the DNA here is most closely tied to Sense and Sensibility that it was a bit flat.

The narration was as flat, unfortunately. Not a spark to be found amongst story, characters, or reading. I had a very hard time finishing it, always deciding that a podcast would be more interesting. It just all ended up being so completely dull.

This entry was posted in audiobook, Book Reviews, Historical, romance, urban fantasy. Bookmark the permalink.

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