Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The jacket copy calls this a mix of Pride and Prejudice and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and I would have to agree. Since I am a fan of both of those novels, I am right in the target audience for Shades of Milk and Honey. The magic system is unique and well-integrated into the world of the novel, and perhaps most interesting, primarily the province of women.
While I did enjoy this book - so much so that I read it in one afternoon - there are a couple things that distracted me and occasionally dimmed my enjoyment. The first is the extremely close resemblance to Jane Austen's novels. I think that it is intended in part as an homage, and it works well as a short-cut to help the reader understand the world without too much exposition. It also, however, means that the plot is pretty clear right from the beginning, since it adheres closely to Jane Austen's patterns. There was never a doubt in my mind about which character was the eventual love interest and which was the villain. Some of the characters seemed lifted whole-cloth from P and P. The second distraction is that several of the characters overuse the same word or phrase whenever they talk. Beth, for example, describes everything as "droll," while Melody says "la" in almost every conversation. It happened just enough that it caught my attention, instead of remaining in the background as a personality quirk.
I look forward to reading the sequels and seeing how Kowal broadens the world and magic, since I presume they will move farther from Jane Austen. The highest compliment I can provide for Shades of Milk and Honey is that I continued thinking about the story - its details, the implications of the magical system and so forth - long after I finished reading.
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