I was on vacation and got caught up on a whole lot of reading. I’ve been way behind on Vaginal Fantasy reads for awhile now but when I saw that one of the more recent in the list was the first book in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories, books noted for their Jane Austen vibe, I downloaded it immediately & vowed to read it before vacation was over.
Now, I love Jane Austen. LOVE. JANE. AUSTEN. Her books are clever comedies of manners and love unrequited (and requited) and country rivalries and respectable, sassy heroines (except for Mansfield Park but ugh Fanny whatever). Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk & Honey has all the trappings of a Jane Austen novel and I genuinely enjoyed it for that. However, there was always this feeling of just the tiniest something being a bit off. I’m not referring to the fact that the world is full of magic, or glamour, where the art of making things appear nicer than they are is coveted. If you obsess over Jane Austen and have dabbled in some of the other AustenVerse books that have been written, you know that feeling of something trying just a little bit too hard to emulate her and Shades of Milk & Honey delves into that territory frequently.
Everything plays out like a Jane Austen novel. We have Melody, a conniving & beautiful sister with no skills save her pretty face, and Jane, the plain but very smart older sister with a knack for glamour and decorum. However, there’s a mean spiritedness to the sisters’ rivalry that I never recall being quite so pointed in an Austen novel. Certainly, in Pride & Prejudice, the Bennett sisters were snarky but Melody comes across as downright cruel.
The iconic scenes and character “types” of numerous Austen novels collide – A picnic. A fancy country dance. A mysterious love affair. A daft & obnoxious mother. A dastardly Wickham type. A brooding stand-offish love interest. Half the fun of reading this book is pinpointing “oh, that’s Emma” and “oh, that’s Pride & Prejudice.” Even the main story arc feels ripped from the pages of an Austen book and there are no blush-worthy sexy times in this book (despite being a Vaginal Fantasy read).
In the long run, Shades of Milk & Honey is a solid setup for a fun set of mysteries in a fantastical Jane Austen fusion world. It is *not*, however, Jane Austen. And that’s okay. I look forward to reading the second book with the hope that it takes a turn away from playing out like a hardcore homage to Austen and starts to find its own legs.