By: Mary Robinette Kowal
Pros: quick pace, seamlessly adds magic to historically accurate pre-Victorian setting
Cons: entirely character driven, ending felt rushed
Two British Regency era sisters, one beautiful the other accomplished, vie for the attentions of men.
Despite her mastery of the womanly arts of painting, piano and glamour, 'plain' Jane Ellsworth despairs of finding a husband and is jealous of her younger sister's good looks and easy manner.
The novel's a quick read, with short chapters and lots of dialogue. Though not in first person, we see the world through Jane's eyes, as she tries to deaden her feelings for Mr. Dunkirk for fear that he's interested in her sister. Meanwhile she learns more about magic by examining the techniques of a visiting glamourist, much to his annoyance.
Like the Jane Austen novels it was based on, Shades of Milk and Honey is entirely character driven and has no plot beyond whether Jane will end up married and to whom. Those who enjoy Victorian literature will appreciate the attention to detail Kowal puts into her work. The addition of magic - the only non-historical attribute - adds an interesting element to the story and is seamlessly integrated into the Victorian culture.
Jane could be a Mary Sue character were it not for her rivalry with her sister. Always proper, Jane suppresses her emotions to the point that her art is lifeless, despite her talent.
While the climax was dramatic, the ending felt a bit rushed. Everything was too neatly tied up in too few pages.
If you enjoy Regency literature, this is a great read, whether you're into fantasy or not.