Desert Isle Keeper
Shades of Milk and Honey
Shades of Milk and Honey is billed as “the fantasy novel you’ve always wished Jane Austen had written,” and for once, the marketing is right on the money.
Jane Ellsworth is the plain sister, but also the talented one. Whereas younger sister Melody has genuine beauty, Jane has the gift of glamour, the ability to spin illusions of sight, sound, and even touch. Like playing the pianoforte or doing watercolors, glamour is a desirable ladylike accomplishment, and Jane’s is truly outstanding. Not outstanding enough, however, to compensate for the size of her nose – which is why Jane knows her affection for neighbor Mr. Dixon is doomed to lose out to Melody’s interest in him. But the introduction of two new gentlemen, Captain Livingstone of the Royal Navy and professional glamourist Mr. Vincent, sends the neighborhood into a tizzy. Who will get their HEAs, and with whom?
The book is steeped in Austen. You’ll see Austen in the characters, such as the histrionic mother and the Grand Dame Lady Fitzcameron, who is Captain Livingston’s aunt and the employer of Mr. Vincent. It also borrows plot beats, like a secret engagement, and a younger sister with a mysterious mistake in her past. The prose is evidently not of the turn of the nineteenth century, but I prefer that, since it makes for a more fluid, modern read. It pleasantly evokes Austen’s cadences, and that’s enough for me.
If you are not into magical stories, I still think you should give this a try. The glamour aspect does not change the society significantly from the actual historical Regency, and it’s not hard to imagine this story being minimally changed if Jane’s talent had lain in actual painting. I was pulled into the descriptions of glamour and its limitations, for instance, the way glamour is worked is described like textiles, with “fold” and “pull” and “tie off” as verbs for creating and anchoring glamours. If you work a glamour for too long, you will pass out, and run the risk of permanent damage or death. This concept not only helps explain why Jane doesn’t just glamour away her appearance (“Imagine then the day when I must let the glamour drop”), but also neatly echoes longstanding concerns of women’s brains overheating. And Mr. Vincent, the professional glamourist, has the male advantage of training and respect a woman doesn’t receive in the same field and for the same work.
Negatives? Jane’s obliviousness that Mr. Dixon reciprocates her interest might be possible just for Jane, but nobody else considers it, which is odd. Jane and Mr. Vincent needed more scenes together. In general, the plot could have used – to borrow textile terms! – some tightening just before the halfway mark, and some smoothing out in the final scenes, where an action sequence feels like quite a departure from the previous tones.
However. The Regency setting has felt like something of a rut to me lately, and this book absolutely bounced me out of it. Reading it, I recaptured the way I felt first reading Regencies two decades ago, when the setting felt fresh and unexpected. I sincerely hope that even if you aren’t completely sure about the magic element, that you give Shades of Milk and Honey a try.
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I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.