Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
Jane Ellsworth has settled into the quiet life of a soon-to-be spinster. She busies herself with the feminine arts–music and glamour–knowing that these are the only things that recommend her as she lacks the conventional beauty sought by gentlemen. Her sister, Melody, is beautiful and passionate, sparkling at every ball, but has no talent for the arts that her plain sister wields. When Melody’s passionate nature gets the better of her, the two sisters become antagonists and Jane gets caught in the middle of a tangled affair involving several parties, her own passions coming to the fore when she acknowledges the jealousy and negative energies that mar her feelings towards her sister. As Jane learns to harness her feelings for art, she learns more about herself and the talents she possesses.
Shades of Milk and Honey is the sort of book that needs to settle a bit before I can truly say whether I enjoyed it or not. This is such a gentle, well-mannered sort of book, I liken it to a soft, pink-hued vapor, something ephemeral and bright that passes you by. That’s a frilly way of putting it, but it’s the kind of book that leaves me feeling as if I didn’t quite get it, but that it’s not the sort of book that you can get with one reading. In many ways, it reminds me of Robin McKinley’s Chalice; there’s a quiet magic to it that I don’t quite understand. But that’s alright, I enjoyed the parts that I did understand.
There is magic in this book, but it’s more akin to Jane Austen than any fantasy novel I’ve ever read. That is one thing that Kowal does really well–this book feels like a Regency novel. She really captures the nuances of language that mark a true novel from the era. I started the novel expecting it to be similar to the Sorcery & Cecilia series, but it was more like reading Sense and Sensibility.
I can’t say whether I am satisfied with the story; it felt too brief, for one thing. At times, it seemed too similar to Austen, as if I could spot the Austen characters that served as a references/influences for Kowal’s characters. It’s an unexpected sort of book.