There are quite a few eras I’m glad I don’t live in. The 19th century is one of them. It’s never appealed to me and I have never been a Jane Austen fan. I’m just too blunt and straightforward for the manners of the period. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy is trying to write a letter to his sister and he keeps getting interrupted. His response is something along the lines of, “Let me convey your sentiments to my sister another time. I don’t have the room to do justice to your words.” While that is polite and sweet, it is a far too long and roundabout way to tell someone to shut up for my taste. That’s my overall impression of the Victorian era.
You may be wondering why I chose to read Shades of Milk and Honey, since most of the reviews I’ve read so far mention Jane Austen. I was in the mood for something light, new, and different, and Shades of Milk and Honey fit. If I hadn’t been in the mood for something like this, I would probably have had a very hard time with this book.
Shades of Milk and Honey will appeal to Jane Austen fans. Mary Robinette Kowal’s writing fits the period. She pays close attention to details which often leads to long descriptions of various rooms, proper social protocol, and the like. Some readers may find this tedious, but most will probably find it charming. Kowal never breaks the Regency tone of the book. However, while the descriptions and style of writing are incredibly impressive and polished, they never made me feel like anything but an observer, which disappointed me greatly. The world never really came alive.
The pace of Shades of Milk and Honey also had some problems. Due to the long-winded descriptions, the plot seemed to crawl at a snail’s pace in parts and, due to feeling like an observer, I never experienced any of the charming atmosphere that other reviewers have mentioned. The slow pace made these two issues nearly unbearable at times, especially when the ending became obvious. Basically, there was a lot of description and a lot of tittering about, but for much of the book, nothing really happened. The plot itself was very straightforward and predictable. For those looking for light entertainment, this will be perfect. The rest of us might feel that Shades of Milk and Honey lacks some important complexity.
Glamour, the magic system in Shades of Milk and Honey, was very quaint, but even that was lacking. There was no description of how it worked besides a mention of folds and sewing, so I never had an understanding of glamour. In fact, it felt more like an afterthought than anything else. It was the addition of glamour that moved this book from fiction to fantasy, but because it was such an important part of the plot, it really needed to be more fleshed out and understandable.
Kowal’s characters were about as interesting as her world but, like her world, they weren’t very fleshed out or well-rounded. It was interesting to see the world through Jane’s eyes, but the emotional distance between Jane and the reader is so vast that she never becomes real or alive. In fact, Jane seems more like a means to an end. She’s a way for the reader to read about events that transpire, but there isn’t much more there. Many of her actions, specifically regarding the ending, made no sense in the context of her previous actions or decisions.
Despite all of these issues, Shades of Milk and Honey is enjoyable for readers who are willing to appreciate it for what it is: a surface-level read, good for light entertainment, but not for deep thought. Fans of Regency manners and Jane Austen should check this book out. Kowal’s writing is charming and her research of the period is obvious and thorough. However, when looked at a bit closer, Shades of Milk and Honey is an average read. It lacks depth, the world and characters aren’t well rounded, and the nonsensical magic system seems dropped in on a whim. With the right expectations, it’s worth giving this book a shot. It’s a very quick read that just might surprise you.
FanLit thanks Sarah Chorn from Bookworm Blues for contributing this guest review.