First of all, I barely managed to read Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. The writing was good, the time period is one that I love, and the concept of glamour in the time of Jane Austen- delicious. However, the main character Jane made me want to throw a book at her. In particular the book in my hand. Then I just wanted to throw the book across the room because I wanted to hurt the book as much as it was hurting my head. But I didn’t. Because it was a library book. But, otherwise I would have thrown it across the room. I’ve been known to do this with items a few times. Once, I spent two weeks knitting a sweater, tried it on, and it was 4X too big. I threw the mostly finished sweater across the room and my boyfriend of the time looked at me like I had gone crazy. As he had never knitted, he had no clue how frustrating knitting is. Or that after calming down a bit I was forced to unravel the entire project and start over. Anyway, I sometimes throw things that make me annoyed. And if I had owned this book, I would have thrown it across the room.
I picked up the book from the library because I read somewhere on the internets that it was a fun book, basically Jane Austen with magic. Well, it is. But it is also about the most inane, insipid, uninspired character I have read about in a long time. Jane is a spinster, at the ripe old age of 28 (as I just turned 29 this had me scowling, but I chalked it up to the times) she has decided her best option is to make sure that her sister marries well so she can be a nursemaid to her future nieces and nephews, because of course their father’s heritage will not pass down to them, but will go instead to some random dude we never hear about again. Mrs. Bennett, I mean Jane’s Mother, is an invalid mostly of her own choosing. Jane’s father is a wise old man who puts up with his foolish wife with little sighs and long walks through the countryside. As part of their upbringing, all young women from good families learn how to manipulate the ether around them in an art form called glamour. They are able to change the slant of light in a room to make a particular wall look better, or give movement to curls in a painting, or send colors in spirals around them as they play the piano. This sounds awesome, like I said the concept of the book and its “magic” is cool.
But then it breaks apart. Jane’s sister is a completely selfish, uncaring, manipulative …….well, I try not to call people names on this site. Anyway, instead of doing the sisterly thing, yelling at her sister to stop being stupid, Jane bears the burdens of her sister’s manipulations and ruining of their family’s reputation with sighs. That I could handle. But poor Martyr Jane takes it to a whole ‘nother level. She takes all the blame for her stupid sister’s stupidity, because it’s all her fault after all. If she were just a more caring sister, than her sister would a better person. Any time Jane tries to confront her sister, her sister turns it all back on Jane. Which Jane simpers and accepts. EXCUSE ME! If there is anyone, anyone, you can yell at about their stupidity, it is your sister. I know. I have four of them (sisters not stupidities). At some point and time they have all been stupid and I have yelled at them. At some point in time I have been stupid, and they have yelled at me. I did not take on their faults and they did not take on mine. I find this a dangerous mindset, a bad moral of the story, and am disgusted that the author lauds Jane’s inability to ever stand up for herself.
The other thing that I really hated about this book was that the inevitable romance was sooooo completely inane. There are two men that come into Jane’s life. One arrives with his sister whom Jane befriends. The other arrives as a guest of a wealthy women in the neighborhood, he is a renown glamourist. Which is unusual because men are not so good at the glamour. Jane spends an inordinate amount of time with the one man and his sister, learning about them, getting to know them and understanding who they are as people. She spends about half a second thinking about how the glamourist does his job. And who do you think she ends up with? UGH! And instead of any kind of courtship being talked about after she decides she is in love with someone she doesn’t even really know, the author jumps ahead to when they have grand kids. Really? Really? Not at all cliche there. Way to skip over the important stuff. Way to have no one learn any kind of real lesson.
With the main character a real ninny, the men in the book having absolutely no character, and the book falling into the damsel in distress syndrome, I was very disappointed. I expected more from someone with such great pose, pacing, and interesting concepts. I wish her characters had been better formed, the story line had stayed away from cliches, and that she had given Jane just the barest hint of a freaking backbone. There are more books in this series, they will not be read. I do not recommend this. It doesn’t even work as a fun fast read, because the main character is so aggravating that the the fun is lost and that makes the fast part of reading go out the window for me too.
Edit: Someone pointed out I spelled Jane Austen’s name incorrectly! My apologies. I have corrected that error.