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Shades of Milk and Honey Hardcover – August 3, 2010

167 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Kowal's quasi-Regency fantasy debut, plain Miss Jane Ellsworth envies her sister's looks, while flighty Melody envies Jane's talent with magical glamour. Rude, mysterious Mr. Vincent, a brilliant glamour artist hired to create living murals in a nearby mansion, shows little interest in the niceties of society, and none (it seems) in Jane. As Jane shyly seeks Mr. Vincent's tutelage and approval, Melody pursues a disastrous romance. A sprinkling of Jane Austen's idiosyncratic spellings (shew, teaze, etc.) doesn't hide the lack of her trenchant wit or distinctive characters, and period errors abound. Despite the tremendous potential in the magical manipulation of light and temperature, glamour is used solely for decoration and entertainment, with implausibly little effect on history or culture. The story plods at a wooden pace until the climax, which achieves a sprightly comedy-of-errors froth.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Take Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and add a dash of magic and you have this delightful story by Mary Kowal. This is the story of two sisters, Jane, who is more magically talented, and Melody, a stunning beauty, and their quest to find love and stability. Both girls hope to marry well despite their lack of inheritance, and are pursued by various suitors. They are quickly embroiled into the intricacies of their neighbors’ lives, and the resulting series of events is sure to entrance the reader. For those who love reading Jane Austen’s books, this will at least temporarily satisfy the craving. A touch of magic inserted into the story is enough to enhance, but not overwhelm the story line. A quick, light read, with characters that the reader will feel right at home with. --Rebecca Gerber

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1 edition (August 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780765325563
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765325563
  • ASIN: 076532556X
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (167 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #848,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of Shades of Milk and Honey (Tor 2010). In 2008 she won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and in 2011, her short story "For Want of a Nail" won the Hugo Award for Short Story. Her work has been a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. Stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov's, and several Year's Best anthologies as well as in her collection Scenting the Dark and Other Stories from Subterranean.

Mary, a professional puppeteer and voice actor, has performed for LazyTown (CBS), the Center for Puppetry Arts, Jim Henson Pictures and founded Other Hand Productions. Her designs have garnered two UNIMA-USA Citations of Excellence, the highest award an American puppeteer can achieve. She also records fiction for authors such as Kage Baker, Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi.

She is the Vice President of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Mary lives in Portland, OR with her husband Rob and over a dozen manual typewriters. Visit

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 107 people found the following review helpful By George on August 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I would give the book 3.5 stars. But I can see where some would rate it higher.
Premise is excellent.
Easy read - but then as I note below - I found that distracting.
Characters - most needed more development
Plot - pleasant
The premise of the novel is marvelous. Take a regency England family, and make magic (called glamour) an accomplishment pursued by the ton women. I think I may have come to the book with a high expectation. I love Austen and I love Georgette Heyer. I was unconsciously setting the bar pretty high.

From my view point, a book like this should be written with more intricate prose. Kowal wrote her book, the way the vast majority of books are written today - for the 8th grade reading level. (Its not a YA novel, its just short sentences, easy repeatable words) Frankly, she probably couldn't have sold the book if she had written it with complex sentences that go on for a paragraph. But to me that is what the era calls for. That is what evokes that air of sophisticated snobbery, the elitist condescension,and the beautiful culture.

I longed for more detailed history, a more in depth characterization, a reason to like Melody - the beautiful sister, a better and more entertaining character study of the mother.

None of the characters are particularly original, but I don't demand that. I just demand that I get to know them and not end up defining them off characters in other novels to which they are similar.

Kowal's description of glamour is wonderful. Her description of its creation and the finished illusions make you long to see it in person. And she did a nice job of creating & building interest in the mysterious and scowling Mr. Vincent.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By B. W. Davis on May 30, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've had my eye on this book for nearly a year - since Dragon*Con last September, where this book was promoted in the Steampunk track with swag sandalwood fans. Regency-period Britain with magical glamour wrinkle (but not the full-blown steampunk feel) seemed like just the thing. I hesitated, though, because the Kindle price of the book was $12 - much higher than the bargain priced hardbacks, and still higher than the price of the paperback coming out later this year. I've read plenty on the economics of Kindle pricing, but I still can't understand how publishers justify their price point. I suppose I fed into it, since I bought the kindle version myself...

What's Good: The book has exactly what it promises: romance, glamor, Austenian sensibilities, jealous sisters, gambling cads, and a clever female protagonist. The author handles glamour well - it's not quite a "system" like Sanderson's various magics, but clearly Kowal has thought it through, and is able to describe in a comprehensible way how the women interact with the ether, and what it takes from them to employ glamour.

What's Bad: Aside from the price tag (and I'd be surprised if the price tag wasn't a significant "bad" for many prospective readers), there's nothing new here beside the wrinkle of glamour. Down to the name and description of the protagonist, (plain) Jane, everything seems to be derivative of Austen, but without the masterful insight into human emotion. Surely the glamour is newish (and enough to make me want to read the story), but even while it's integral to the plot, glamour doesn't seem to have affected the world in any way enough to make it more than a novelty or window dressing.
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47 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Sherrie Benjamin on August 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I picked this up on a recommendation from one of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy sites. I have to agree with the reviewer who gave it one star: the characters are bland at best, one dimensional stereotypes at worst. I was hoping for some real character growth, or to show more to the characters personalities as the story went on. There was very little, and what little there was was painfully predictable. That's the problem with this novel: its TOO predictable. You've seen all the characters and plot before, and even the addition of magic adds little to make it much different.

The novel is slowly paced, and I felt like I was waiting for something to happen. Austen could be accused of this, but her writing was witty enough to carry it. There are some interesting ideas, but nothing that really gripped me or made me excited for the climax. I didn't love the novel, but I didn't hate it either. It's a decent read, but easily forgettable. Wait for the paperback edition, or if its on sale to get it.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By J. Hilton on January 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I agree whole-heartedly with Sherry Livingston's review. I enjoyed the light ease with which "Shades of Milk and Honey" flowed through my mind. I couldn't put it down. I'd hoped to read it before bed, over the course of several nights, but finished it within just 2 days. It's become rare for me to read a modern novel and simply enjoy it -- without feeling confused, bored, manipulated, disappointed, repulsed, or overwhelmed. Not every book has to be chock full of action, suspense, violence, angsty emo self-centered fixation, social commentary, incredible magic/super powers, monsters, and sex. If that's what you want, this isn't it. This is a charming, romantic story which -- like many of my favorite costume dramas -- is all about subtlety. "Shades" of romance, despair, misunderstanding, insult, honor and meaning. The main character is a very selfless, humble, kind person -- another rarity in modern storytelling. And the magic -- called "glamour" within the novel -- was a beautiful, entirely believable element of the story. I eagerly await the sequel, "Glamour in Glass."
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