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Shades of Milk and Honey    by Mary Robinette Kowal order for
Shades of Milk and Honey
by Mary Robinette Kowal
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey is a gentle fantasy with resonances of an Austen novel. In this world, skill in the art of illusion is valued just as much as good looks, or artistic or musical ability.

Though Jane Ellsworth is plain compared to her lovely sister Melody (who reminded me at times of Jane in Pride and Prejudice and at others of Lydia), she has remarkable taste and talent in the womanly arts of glamour, music and painting.

As the story begins, headstrong Melody is 'developing an attachment' to their elegant neighbor, Mr. Edmund Dunkirk. Unfortunately, Jane is also attracted to Mr. Dunkirk, who shows signs of appreciation of her good taste and talents, and encourages her friendship with his sister Beth.

New additions to society in the neighborhood include Captain Livingston FitzCameron (who appears to collect fiancées) and Mr. Vincent, a brooding artist with a stunning talent, who rarely speaks but often stares at Jane. Melody's interest turns to Captain FitzCameron, while Jane (still drawn to Edmund) is curious about Vincent and learns to refine her own skills from watching his work.

There are morning calls, dinner parties and balls, and the Ellsworths host a strawberry-picking party where illusion dominates. Hiding in glamour after hearing an uncomplimentary remark about herself at a party, Jane is shocked to learn an unsavory secret. Then when Mr. Vincent overuses his abilities and risks his life, Jane's quick thinking saves him.

The rather awkward conclusion includes a duel, during which individuals' true characters become clear, Jane's love triangle is resolved, and the tension between sisters dissolves. Fans of Regency fantasy will appreciate the fact that the ending hints at further epsiodes to come in this intriguing world.

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