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?

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Josiah DeGraaf started reading when he was four, started writing fiction when he was six and hasn’t stopped doing either ever since. After growing up with seven younger siblings, he eventually found himself graduated and attending Patrick Henry College, where he plans on majoring in literature with a minor in pedagogy (it’s a fancy Greek word for education).
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels that have 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 fun as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. Plans for obtaining those impossible goals include listening to a lot of Hans Zimmer, ignoring college work so that he can find time to write, and avoiding coffee at all costs.
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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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