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Valour and Vanity    by Mary Robinette Kowal order for
Valour and Vanity
by Mary Robinette Kowal
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Mary Robinette Kowal continues her Glamourist Histories series (that began with Shades of Milk and Honey) in this fourth episode Valour and Vanity. These books inject magic into an Austen-era England and Europe. In Kowal's imagined world, the magical art of illusion is valued just as much as good looks, or artistic or musical ability.

The first book brought together plain but skilled Jane Ellsworth and brooding David Vincent, a highly talented illusionist. They ended up married and working glamours in an effective partnership. The second episode took them to aid the war effort against Napoleon in Belgium. Next, they and Jane's sister Melody were implicated in a coldmongers' revolt, and Melody wed Alastar Stratton.

As Valour and Vanity opens, Jane envies Melody, who is expecting a child. Both couples and the elder Ellsworths tour the Continent, but part ways in Trieste. Jane and David sail onwards towards Venice, planning to find a glassmaker to work with on Murano, in order to explore the interaction between glamour and glass.

Surprisingly their ship is attacked by pirates and they arrive in Venice destitute. David is badly injured in the attack and recovers slowly, plagued by debilitating headaches. A fellow passenger, Signor Sanuto (a banker), comes to their aid, sheltering them in his Murano palazzo. And he helps them find a glassmaker who will work with them.

It gradually becomes clear that the glamourists have been the subject of an elaborate scam, and they are left in dire straits. But they are not without magical resources. What they do to reclaim what is theirs (helped by Lord Byron and nuns!) reminded me somewhat of the movie, The Sting. It's certainly great fun to read about.

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