After being gobsmacked by Kowal’s short story ‘For Want of a Nail’, I just had to buy and read her novel – Shades of Milk and Honey. This book has confirmed Kowal as one of my new favourite authors.
In a nutshell, ‘Shades of Milk and Honey’ is a lovely fusion of fantasy and Jane Austen-esque period drama. The prose resonated with the era without being slavish or over-the-top, however it was the fantasy element that I enjoyed the most.
The plot hinges on the ability of ordinary humans to work glamour in their everyday lives. If you are familiar with the concept of faery and the glamour they can cast over their victims then you will begin to see what this common magic can do.
Do you have a crack in your wall? No problem, just weave some glamour over it, tie it off and no-one will see the crack any more – it is still there but it has been hidden. Is your nose too big? Do your teeth stick out? If you have the stamina to continuously weave the glamour to hide your imperfections then you too can have a pert nose or perfect, sparkling teeth! And if you are an artist as well as talented in the glamour you can create extraordinary beauty. Beware of over-doing the glamour though – too much can quite literally kill you.
So this is the world in which Kowal’s heroine goes about her very normal, rather uninteresting life. At twenty-eight, rather plain and still unmarried, she is a dutiful daughter and a caring sister but Kowal’s heroine is not as placid as she appears. Intelligent, artistic and highly talented in the glamour she finds herself attracted to a man she cannot have and fascinated by one she does not like.
I’ll admit that at this point I had images of Mr Darcy running through my mind and a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. ‘Oh no, not a remix,’ I thought. Luckily I thought wrong! I could not predict either the climax or the ending and for that I will be eternally grateful. Despite appearances this story is not what it seems. Quirky yes but most definitely not a rehash of an old theme.
I gave ‘For Want of a Nail’ five stars. ‘Shades of Milk and Honey’ gets four and a half. I subtracted half a star for the Mr Darcy terrors. Seriously though, if you enjoy Jane Austen and innovative fantasy then you will love this book as much as I did. Enjoy!