Book Review: Shades of Milk and Honey

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.

Image above more captivating than the book, do people really bath in milk and honey? How decadent.

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.

What I imagine using glamour would look like.

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.

Woe is I, My sister is a ninny ('course I am too).

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.

I will throw a bomb at you if you don't grow up and get a spine!

This is of course, only my humble opinion. There are other people who enjoyed it, though they did see the flaws I saw. I just couldn’t overlook the flaws.

Edit: Someone pointed out I spelled Jane Austen’s name incorrectly! My apologies. I have corrected that error.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: Shades of Milk and Honey

  1. Awwww… I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this one. Like I said, it reminded me so much of Sense and Sensibility and it was a delightful change of pace for me since I tend to read pretty dark stuff. It’s always nice to read a different point of view!

  2. Don’t you hate it when you are reading a book that you keep expecting to get better as they go but they never do? Your frustrations are shared.

  3. I think you’ve missed the authors point. I have a sister too, we both have stupidities…My sister is the passionate soapboxy sort. I have learned it is far better to let my sister vent all her ire. She then calms down and thinks about what she’s said and realizes she overreacted or was wrong in her treatment of whomever she vented her ire upon (all this is not to say that I have my issues as well). Not all sisters have relationships where shouting matches are the way things are done. I found Jane to be more mature, forgiving, and therefore graceful for the way she handled things. She does get angry with her sister and she does try to check her behavior….but she also lets her sister see the error of her ways as well. I think it a mistake to not read the other book as this is the first of a series…I’m sure character development will be taking place in the follow and things will be explained more fully and the characters more endearing. Harry Potter and Sorcerer’s stone was not the best in character development and you found out more as the story went on. Ms Austen’s Emma, is very annoying, tactless and prejudiced….she is my least favorite of all the Austen Characters but I still like the story and will read it again.

    That is just my humble opinion. If you are like my sister you will think your opinion is the more correct and I’m just to stupid to see that. I just humbly give my point of view in the hopes that you’ll take a second look and try to understand it from a different point of view…perhaps you’ll enjoy it more the second time around.

    • I believe I understood the author’s point, which you have graciously reiterated. Thank you for your comment and expressing your point of view. I really appreciate that. I more had a problem with the main character never standing up for herself. While loving the style of this author, her prose was quite beautiful, I desire to read about a different type of heroine.

  4. I have not read this book, but based upon the fair (to my mind) assessment above, I will not be reading it. The main character sounds a lot like the main character in a modern “phenomenon” (rhymes with “My light”), which I did read and did not like. I do not expect main characters to start out the book as strong and fiercely self-reliant, but I do expect there to be some growth and change as the story continues, especially one covering four volumes. However, the great thing about this country is that I am allowed to say “I do not care for this” and my friend/parent/child/sibling/co-worker/seatmate on the bus is allowed to say “I DO care for this”, and neither of us is wrong. 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment. I too expect some development. My favorite series for this type of transformative heroine, is The Fever series. The main character started the first book out as someone I did not like, by the end of the first book she had learned some lessons, so I continued reading about her in the other books. By the end of the series she had grown so much as a person, that I learned a lot from her growth. I recommend The Fever series if you are look for that type of character growth!

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