I’d had a spell of reading dull, tedious, and difficult books, and had quite lost my appetite for reading, so I was glad to finally get my hands on a copy of SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY, about which I’d heard many pleasant things.
This novel was presented to me as a fantasy pastiche of Austen. While it is a Regency-era drawing room romance, it’s not a pastiche. Kowal has written a witty comedy of manners, but she’s included magic into it so seamlessly that it doesn’t feel that the magic was shoe-horned into someone else’s novel.
The protagonist, Jane, is the perfect sort of heroine–she’s just a trifle old (28) and just a trifle plain (sallow complected, and with an overlong nose) but she’s kindly to a fault. And I do mean to a fault, as her natural predilection towards showing the utmost kindness and tact in every situation gets her into difficult predicaments.
I loved the glamours that Jane and some of the other characters wield, and I have a typically feminine soft-spot for Regency romances. Kowal keeps the elegance of dances and coming-out and tea with the daughters of the ton, but she also includes some of the stifling social mores expected of women of that century. Jane never forgets who she is, and never once acts like a twenty-first century woman in muslin sprigging. The mysteries of the past of several of the characters also kept me keen on reading to the end. Jane, unlike my tactless self, never shakes her co-characters by the shoulders and demands that they spill their juicy gossip RIGHT NOW.
I read this book in one sitting, and it thankfully succeeded in whetting my appetite for other works of literature, so I must say I liked it. However, no book is perfect, and the flaw of SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY is in the way it lapses from the typical structure of a Regency novel (which, while not as rigid as the social mores of its heroines, is nonetheless structured.) Generally, a heroine sets her heart on one suitor. She may enjoy the attentions of more than one, and she may waver, but sooner, rather than later, she ought to prefer one exclusively to the other. With this novel, Jane seemed to hold two men in equal regard, so much so that when she finally became engaged to one (oh come on, it’s not that much of a spoiler! Heroines always become engaged in these novels!) it seemed that her relationship with the other hadn’t quite ended. I wondered what happened to him, and at what point she decided he wasn’t the one she was after. I would have liked a bit more of a denouement.
I would recommend this to open-minded Regency fans (I say open-minded, because some of them are quite particular about how these novels ought to be done properly–can’t have that color dress, etc.) and I would recommend it to those who like fantasy. In particular, I would recommend it to anyone who liked SORCERY AND CECELIA, because it has some of the charm of that novel.