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Literature / Shades of Milk and Honey

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What is talent without beauty?
Shades of Milk and Honey is a Regency Fantasy novel by Mary Robinette Kowal, written as a loving Homage to Jane Austen. Its only fantasy element is the ability to create "folds" of illusion, at the expense of some exhaustion. It tells the story of Jane Ellsworth, a young woman in the mold of a sensible Austen heroine, who possesses a high degree of skill in illusion, as well as music and the other "accomplishments" of Regency England. Her sister, a specimen of much less maturity (both in years and wisdom) provides much conflict, of the familial and romantic variety, as suitors dance about both girls. The plot thickens when certain secrets come to light...and when certain emotions come into play.

First in The "Glamourist Histories" series, Shades (2011) is followed by Glamour in Glass (2012) which delves into Napoleonic intrigue, marital tension and reconciliation; Without a Summer (2013), mixing Emma with Industrial Revolution riots; Valour and Vanity (2014), a Jane Austen caper yarn in the vein of the Ocean's Eleven series and Of Noble Family, (2015), dealing with race relations and slavery.


This work includes examples of:

  • Awesome, but Impractical: It's explained to Captain Livingstone that the Navy can't use glamour to hide its ships because folds are tied up to a specific place, and ships need to move. Hence, glamour is only used for art.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Downplayed version with Jane and Mr. Vincent.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Henry Livingston seems like a nice young gentleman, but is actually a two-timing Manipulative Bastard who tries to kill his debtor and frame Jane for it.
  • Brainless Beauty: Melody very much believes herself to be this, and that there is nothing to her but her beauty.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Paralleling Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, Jane is an Expy for Elinor, the responsible elder sister, while Melody fills the role of occasionally foolish Marianne.
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  • Functional Magic: Glamour is a form of Rule Magic.
  • Gaslamp Fantasy: Of the Regency variety.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Jane is plain, but accomplished. She wishes she were as beautiful as her sister Melody. Melody is beautiful. She wishes she were anywhere near as talented in anything as her sister Jane. This causes more than a little conflict between them as they try to settle which one of them is better or worse off in the game of getting a husband.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Jane is adamant about this. Strange, because the only obvious flaw seems to be a larger than usual nose. Although having a drop-dead gorgeous sister probably has something to do with this, as Jane can't help constantly comparing them.
  • I Just Want to Be Beautiful: Despite protesting that it's too much effort and dishonest, Jane does play with glamouring herself to be more attractive.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Both Jane and Melody do this for different reasons.
  • Impoverished Patrician: A few remarks imply this to be the case for viscountess Fitz-Cameron. It's confirmed in the last chapter of the novel that her estate is nearly bankrupt and she is barely managing a pretense of wealth, dashing Mr. Livingston's plan to use her niece's dowry to pay off his gambling debts.
  • IN SPACE!: It's Jane Austen with Magic!.
  • Lady Wizard: A young lady of breeding is expected to have some talent with glamour as one of her accomplishments.
  • Old Maid: Jane is fairly certain this will be her fate as she feels she is not attractive enough to marry.
  • Proper Lady: Jane.
  • Regency England: Unlike Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell or the Temeraire series, the history and structure of this era aren't dramatically changed by the existence of functional magic, as that magic is a decorative and beautifying art, rather than reality-altering or easily weaponized. Though Jane does give a demonstration of possible combat uses... note 
  • Romantic False Lead: Mr. Dunkirk is one.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Spirited Young Lady: Jane develops into this over the course of the book, going from painfully proper to galloping after her family and intervening in a duel with her magic.
  • Technician Versus Performer: The bulk of Jane's and Vincent's interactions fall under this, with Jane portrayed as the technician with the performer's natural talent, and Vincent portrayed the performer with the technician's drive. In an interesting subversion, the sympathy's with the technician rather than the performer.


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