Of Noble Family: Glamourist Histories Book 5, by Mary Robinette Kowal – A Review

Of Noble Family Mary Robinette Kowal 2015 x 200From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

I am going to miss Jane and Vincent, Mary Robinette’s heroes in her acclaimed Glamourist Histories series. Of Noble Family is the married couple’s fifth and final adventure set in an alternate Regency Britain enhanced by glamour, the loveliest system of magic I’ve encountered. But while their glamoured displays are often breathtaking, Jane and Vincent have taken ether-based illusions far beyond the ubiquitous drawing room decorations created by accomplished young women. In previous books they’ve found practical, if hair-raising, applications for glamour in the war against Napoleon, the Luddite riots, and an escapade involving pirates on the Mediterranean. For this last story the couple will be off to the Caribbean.

When the book opens, Jane and Vincent have been resting after their harrowing exploits on the Italian Island of Murano and enjoying the company of Jane’s family, especially her sister Melody’s new baby boy, who is already showing a precocious ability to see inside glamoured images. But things don’t stay relaxing for long. Vincent receives a letter from his brother Richard that turns their world upside down.

The first shocking piece of news is that Vincent’s father has died of a stroke at the family estate on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Lord Verbury fled to the island in an earlier book to avoid being imprisoned for treason. Since Vincent was badly abused by his father while growing up, the death wasn’t as upsetting to him as it might be, but the bad news didn’t end there. Upon their father’s death, Vincent’s oldest brother Garland inherited the title Lord Verbury, bought himself a new barouche-landau, and then died when the vehicle overturned on the badly maintained road leading to Lyme Regis. Vincent’s middle brother, Richard, was severely injured in the accident, losing one of his feet. In his letter Richard asks Vincent for a very large favor. Continue reading

Valour and Vanity: The Glamourist Histories, Book 4, by Mary Robinette Kowal – A Review

Valour and Vanity, by Mary Roninette Kowal (2014)From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

I have thoroughly enjoyed the first three books of the Glamourist History series which has only gotten better as it goes on, but when I read the description of the fourth book I wasn’t positive that improving trend would continue, at least for me. Pirates? The Regency version of a heist film? Those may appeal to many but aren’t my preferred cup of tea.I love that the earlier books incorporate historic events into an alternate Regency world that shimmers with glamour–a magical art of illusion. Napoleon’s wars, the Luddite uprising, and the 1816 climate disruption are integral parts of their narratives, but the new book’s plot synopsis does not hint at a similar use of history. Still, I trust Mary Robinette Kowal’s storytelling skills so there was no way I would miss her latest. I just hoped I would love Valour and Vanity as dearly as the others.

A tip from Lord Byron sends Jane and her husband Vincent to the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre where an ancient but still vibrant lion glamour roars and struts among the rubble. That beautiful lion is forever fixed in place because glamoured images made with traditional methods cannot be moved, but Jane and Vincent hope to perfect a new way of creating glamour by weaving its threads into molten glass which could then be easily transported. To that end they are headed to the island of Murano, famous for its glass-making artistry. They have been on a mostly joyous Continental trip with the rest of Jane’s family, celebrating her sister Melody’s wedding, but Jane is glad she and Vincent will soon be alone because her mother can tend to be high strung. Sure enough Mrs. Ellsworth musters a Mrs. Bennet worthy panic as Jane and Vincent’s ship is about to depart. She’s heard a rumor pirates rove the Gulf of Venice! Pirates! Continue reading

Without a Summer: Glamourist Histories #3, by Mary Robinette Kowal – A Review

Without a Summer Mary Robinette Kowal 2013 x 200From the desk of Jennifer Haggerty:

When the second book in a series is even better than the first, the third book will be highly anticipated and eagerly sought. If that is not a truth universally acknowledged it is at least true for me, which is why I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Mary Robinette Kowal’s Without a Summer, the third in her Glamourist History novels set in an alternate Regency World imbued with the loveliest of magics.

The first book, Shades of Milk and Honey, contains many elements of a Jane Austen novel–charming cads, lovesick girls, silly mothers, stern suitors, devoted sisters–but also incorporates glamour, a magic art of illusion used to enhance and beautify works of art. Shades of Milk and Honey ends in marriage like Austen’s novels, but Glamour in a Glass, the second book, takes things a bit further because the story of Jane and Vincent continues as they honeymoon in Belgium and this time history gets skillfully worked into the plot. Napoleon is on the march after escaping from Elba, leading Jane and Vincent to devise practical uses for glamour so the British military can defeat his forces. The inclusion of history, the experimental uses of glamour, and the pleasure of watching Jane and Vincent grow as artisans, as individuals, and as a married couple, make Glamour in a Glass a stronger book than its predecessor. I hopefully expected Without a Summer would continue those developments. Continue reading

Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal – A Review

Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal (2012)Review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

“Accustomed as she was to the more retiring life on her father’s estate, Jane had not looked for any honors when she married Mr. Vincent.  The few months of their marriage had been filled with work and the joy of learning to shape their lives together.”

It’s a sequel!  To Shades of Milk and Honey!  Are you excited?  After the resounding success of that, Mary Robinette Kowal’s first book, you probably should be.  But beware as you peruse this, gentle readers, for I have written it under the assumption that you’ve read and enjoyed the lovely first novel.  Spoilers abound!

The end of Shades of Milk and Honey brought an explosive duel, the victory of a suitor, and, as all Regency-era novels tend to do, a wedding.  Vincent and Jane are as happy as they’ve ever been, enjoying life not only as a romantic pair, gazing into each other’s eyes and invoking pet names at every opportunity, but also as a creative partnership.  They effectively go into business together as England’s Best Glamourists and are swiftly snapped up by the Prince Regent and his cohort.  Jane soon finds herself rubbing elbows with the aristocracy, and feels a certain apprehension at the new attention.  Any mistake in her creations now affect her partnership, her place in the world…everything!  Needless to say, she’s always the first one to leave the party and go upstairs.

Not that she’s unproductive.  Much of the story is taken up by the discovery and implementation of Jane’s transport theories for magic, something she discovers by accident as she’s bouncing around Belgium on a working vacation/honeymoon.  She explores, experiments, figures a few interesting things out…a few, uh, remarkable surprises.  One is highly predictable.  One is not.  Another is utterly absurd. Blowing the cover on all of them now would be unkind, suffice to say that Jane’s life is again thrown into turmoil and she’s forced to call upon all her knowledge and expertise (and call in a few favors) to get everything to settle down again.

All of this is superimposed over Ms. Kowal’s elegant magic system, “glamour” as she calls it.  Using the language of textiles, glamourists pull sheets and strands of glamour out of the “ether” and manipulate them in the way a master weaver would.  Folding, braiding, knotting, and tying-off are all common acts with glamour, but it’s in the doing where creativity and deftness of hand where Jane really shines.  She’s totally devoted to her craft, her confidence having grown exponentially as she took her first timid steps away from her father’s home.  Yes, it’s a lovely arrangement, yet it still remains as mysterious and under-explained as it was in Shades of Milk and Honey.  The only moderate salvation to the magic-curious people who take up Glamour in Glass is in a 2-page Glamour Glossary, tucked into the back of the book almost as an afterthought.  Now, to be fair, Ms. Kowal does make the attempt to showcase the logistics of the magic with Jane’s stay at a school for glamourists, an innovative move but one that still left me guessing.  For an author who’s so widely known for her fantasy and science fiction work, I’m still wishing for more!  Certainly more than a glossary.  Please?

But in general, the story bounds along in an elegant way.  Kowal’s writing style is beautiful and engrossing, not to Regency-y but still conforming to the canon of the time.  It’s a noble effort for a second novel, and displays a lot of growth and maturation for her second attempt.  Her characters are still a little shallow, her pace a bit too quick, but a trip through Glamour in Glass shouldn’t leave you disappointed.  If you enjoyed Shades of Milk and Honey, give this one a shot!

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor Books (2012)
Hardcover (336) pages
ISBN: 978-0765325570
NOOK: ISBN: 9781429987288
Kindle: ASIN: B006OLOUQY

© 2007 – 2012 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal – A Review

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal (2011)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

“Of his younger daughter, Melody, he had no concerns, for she had a face made for fortune.  His older daughter, Jane, made up for her deficit of beauty with rare taste and talent in the womanly arts.  Her skill with glamour, music, and painting was surpassed by none in their neighborhood and together lent their home the appearance of wealth far beyond their means.  But he knew how fickle young men’s hearts were.”

Presumably, one sister is “milk” and the other is “honey.”  They complement each other, yet stand alone, one with sweetness and flashy, showy pizazz, and the other with banal yet comfortable stability.  Sound like any other story you’ve heard?  Two sisters vying for attentions of the neighborhood menfolk with two completely different approaches: one passionate, erratic and overly capricious, the other steady and mindful and only dimly lit in terms of beauty.  Sound familiar?

It did (and does) to me, too.  Indeed, the similarities to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility are palpable, from the easily-placed characters and their tastes, feelings, and under-developed motivations, to the plot, with a cadre of viable bachelors parading around and only one of them noble in his intentions.  The passionate sister even falls and twists her ankle; the scoundrel is attracted; the sensible sister tries to keep a lid on things.  The difference with Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal’s debut novel, though, is that many of the plot twists carry a strong sinister twinge.  Jealously and bitterness prevail on more than one occasion, bringing rise to an explosive ending as the consequences of deceit, unrequited love and unspoken truths boil over.  Add dueling pistols and you’ve got yourself a Regency-era party!

Add in magic, too.  Kowal weaves a beautiful magic system in Shades of Milk and Honey, its only shortfall being that it wasn’t fully explained or explored to the extent that I craved.  Jane, the Elinor Dashwood of this story, is particularly talented at manipulating “folds of glamour” that are “taken out of the ether.”  She laces them together, twisting and winding and pulling them into gorgeous imagery that is both pleasing and purposeful.  But how the heck is she doing it, Ms. Kowal?  Is there a wand involved?  Are we talkin’ spells or hexes or what?  All the reader ever discerns about this graceful system is that the efforts spent using it are physically draining, so much that the magician can collapse under the strain or even die.  I found myself desperate for more information on this front, and though I could feel an explanation bubbling up from time to time, thinking, “Okay, she’ll finally talk about it now,” it remains a mystery.  Dang.  That would’ve been cool.

The story itself is moderately compelling and kind of…well, charming in its simplicity.  Jane and Melody Ellsworth seek husbands.  Melody uses her strikingly well-formed looks to wrangle her potential suitors, not to mention girlish impulsiveness and her attractive yet overly-fluffed sense of confidence in her appearance.  Jane is much different, only grudgingly allowing her heart to feel a pang of wanting, being surprised when she discovers that she may not have to be a spinster.  Several men waltz through their quiet lives in Dorchester, including the dashing Captain Livingston, the prudent protector of a young sister, Mr. Dunkirk, and a tortured artist as well, Mr. Vincent.  Things play out, hearts are attracted some places and then others, secrets and scandals are uncovered, and both the sisters eventually figure out where their affections belong.  Dinners and dancing and picnics abound, most of them accentuated by the presence of magic and “folds of glamour” working delightful tricks.  The ending is, as previously mentioned, a whirlwind of emotion and heartbreak that leaves all involved parties shaken and changed forever.

The author clearly has a well-honed approach to writing, her prose and structure is lovely and flowing.  I did at times feel the characters were far away, intangible, and a bit of a mystery.  Still other moments found me wishing the story would slow for a bit of fleshing out.  The end almost reads like a fable, with blistering pace, summing up years and years in only a sentence or two.  Yes, the characters are archetypical, the brainiac and the fickle beauty queen battling again, in this unexplained world of magic and mayhem, but I still enjoyed it with a kind of reserved enthusiasm.  Shades of Milk and Honey represents a solid good ‘ol college try on Ms. Kowal’s part, and I look forward to reading more of her work as she matures and blossoms.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor Books, New York (2011)
Trade paperback (304) pages
ISBN: 978-0765325600

© 2007 – 2011 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose