KP Book Review: Shades of Milk and Honey

Jane is a woman living in Regency England who’s looking for marriage. The problem is that she’s twenty-eight, and few men are interested in a woman as old as she is. So Jane’s contented herself to living on a back burner—at least until the honor of her family is at stake and Jane needs to take action if she’s going to save it.milkandhoneypinterest

Feel a bit like a Jane Austen novel? It kind of is, because Mary Robinette Kowal consciously draws on several stereotypical Austen tropes.

The catch? In this world, magic exists. And not just any magic, but an illusion-based magic that characters use for artistry and disguises.

This one twist sets the premise for an intriguing and fanciful genre-melding book, as Kowal meshes some of the best elements of Austen-style romance with the best elements of fantasy. And not only does she do it, but she does it well.

One of the best parts of this book is definitely the magic system. A lot of magic systems have a tendency to be pretty standard and uninteresting. Many books have a simple elemental-based magic system or spell-based system. What makes this magic system great is how naturally it fits into the book’s setting and theme. In Regency England, appearances are everything and most social life revolves around impressions. Kowal creates a magic system to match the world—one that itself revolves around appearances, impressions, and disguises. And it works wonderfully.

As a Regency romance author, Kowal may not rise to the genius of Austen (that would be a difficult thing to accomplish), but the book succeeds at having the ethos and flair of an Austen. You can see the Austen influence in all of the characters, since many of them are a combination of well-known Austen types. And many of the book’s themes also feel very Austen-esque with the subjects that Kowal tackles. It may not be Austen, but it’s a worthy tribute to her.

Overall, this story is a great example of genre-melding done right, where both genres weave seamlessly together and complement each other exceedingly well. As a lover of Austen and fantasy, I thoroughly enjoyed this story and recommend it to readers with similar interests.

Discussion Questions:

Examine the ending—particularly Jane’s choice about who she’s going to marry. What do you think of the twist? Do you find it believable or not?

How does Kowal mimic certain Austen character types in her characters? Which Austen characters is Kowal drawing from? Why is this technique effective for this kind of book?

Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf is a high school English teacher and literature nerd who fell in love with stories when he was young and hasn’t fallen out of love ever since.
He writes because he’s fascinated by human motivations. What causes otherwise-good people to make really terrible decisions in their lives? Why do some people have the strength to withstand temptation when others don’t? How do people respond to periods of intense suffering? What does it mean to be a hero?
These questions drive him as a reader, and they drive him as a writer as well as he takes normal people, puts them in crazy situations (did he mention he writes fantasy?), and then forces them to make difficult choices with their lives.
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels with worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as entertaining as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. In the meantime, you can find him writing articles here or short stories at his website (link below) as he works toward achieving these goals.
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  1. This book is definitely going on my ever growing to-be-read list. 🙂

  2. So many good books to read… *throws up hands* I give up. xD

  3. I listen to the Writing Excuses Podcast that Mary Robinette Kowal is on so I’d heard of this book. I tend to be a little wary of non-Christian authors, but afyer this recommendation, I’ll see if I can get a hold of it.

    • Writing Excuses is my favorite writing podcast. They have a lot of really good advice on it, though I sometimes disagree with them because of my more conservative perspective.

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