Posted by Sari
Here is one I made earlier:
Mary Robinette Kowal: Shades of Milk and Honey
Regency – and I am using regency here as a genre, not a historical period - fantasy is getting to be a genre of its own. Pat Wrede's and Caroline Stevermer's Sorcery and Celia novels, Susannah Clarke's Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange, Naomi Novik's Temeraire books and last and defenitely least the rewritings of Jane Austen's novels with zombies, vampires and whatnot. And if someone has not yet done so, I am sure there is a writer working on his or her ground breaking regency paranormal romance. (He a brooding viscount and a vampiric rake, she a leavel-headed, plain and clever daughter of a country gentleman...)
Mary Robinette Kowal's first novel, Shades of Milk and Honey is a romance novel about alternate regency where in addition to piano, painting and little french, well brought up young ladies are also supposed to know how to manipulate glamour, that is to create pleasing illusionary tableaux with sound, movement and scent to brighten up the drawing rooms. Jane and Melody are the two daughters of a not so wealthy gentleman trying negotiate a future without a sizable dowry. Jane is the plain but talented one – already on the shelf at the ancient age of 28 – and Melody the pretty one who envies Jane's talent at glamour. In the course of the novel they of course meet a number of dashing and/or brooding gentlemen, and try to find a satisfactory match for themselves.
The whole affair seems to be a very conscious reworking of Jane Austen, mostly Sense and Sensibility, but also at least Pride and Prejudice and Emma feature prominently on the way. The characters are quite well constructed, the prose charming, and Kowal works her little piece of ivory with skill. But though the ending is more Sturm und Drang than Austen, the fact that the Austen influences and homages on the level of the characters reflect to the plot makes everything is just a tad too familiar for an Austen fan. One does pretty well know where the novel is going.
I think I would have liked Kowal's work more if I had not for some strange reason (maybe the name?) expected something a little more substantial. Shades of Milk and Honey is entertaining regency which merges the fantasy and romance tropes very well, and I am sure has cross-over appeal among romance readers, but I have to say I enjoyed Sorcery and Celia and innumerable Georgette Heyer regencies much more.