Valour and Vanity is the fourth book in Mary Robinette Kowal’s series THE GLAMOURISTS. This time our husband-and-wife team of heroes, David Vincent and Lady Jane Vincent, are stranded, penniless, in Murano, victims of a predatory swindler who hopes to sell their secret glamour process to the highest bidder. To stop this from happening, Vincent and Jane must out-swindle the swindler. Yes, that’s right; set during the British Regency, this book is a caper book.
So, hmmm… Do I write a conventional review, or just give you a list of some of the things you will encounter in the book? Well, here’s the list, in no particular order.
- Glamourized lions from ancient Rome
- Murano glass-blowing studios
- Lord Byron
- Lord Byron naked in a canal
- Tarot card references
- Smart, feisty nuns
If none of that interests you, let me add one more thing; the core of this story is still the relationship between Vincent and Jane. In this case, they are marooned penniless in a strange city and Vincent is injured (he got a concussion fighting off the pirates who raided their ship). Jane finds work at a convent and is supporting them temporarily, and Vincent is struggling with his sense of worthlessness. He fears that he has fulfilled the prophecy his brutal, bitter father made; that as a glamourist, he will end up starving on the streets. Kowal has an acute ear for the arguments of married people who love each other. This is perfectly demonstrated in the argument that starts over a cake of lavender soap. Yes, the book is light-hearted escapist fantasy, but that passage could be taught in college English classes. Seriously.
And if that doesn’t pique your interest, then I have to say the caper itself is golden; a delight of double-crosses, double-agents and setbacks. Glass-blowing, and the history of Murano, is fascinating and Kowal uses what was really happening in Murano during this time period to add suspense and interest to the book.
I think I liked Valour and Vanity the best of this series. I do have a couple of nits; the original scam that ensnares Jane and Vincent had to be set up much earlier than we first realize; one more paragraph about how that was accomplished would have helped me. It seems like a large element is left to chance at the very beginning of the book. I also thought things slowed down a bit too much when they first get to Murano — but then the story unfolds and takes wing. If you’ve enjoyed any of the GLAMOURIST books, grab this one. Pour yourself a lemonade, pick up your hand-fan and prepare to be delighted.