by Mary Robinette Kowal
Opening line: “The Ellsworths of Long Parkmead had the regard of their neighbors in every respect.”
Jane Ellsworth is an older daughter, highly accomplished but plain. Her younger sister Melody has all the beauty of the family, but she wishes that she could have admiration for something other than that.
Parts of this book were really, really well done. I loved the idea of the folds of glamour and the way it is used in this society. It honestly is one of the most fascinating systems of magic I can remember reading about and I’d love to have more stories set in the same world so that we can get more of a sense of its uses. Here it was almost exclusively for art–decoration, music, and so on. But surely there are practical applications as well?
At the same time, there is a kind of worldbuilding necessary in historical fiction, as well as in sci-fi and fantasy. This was, unfortunately, often ignored here. Now, I will grant that I am a real stickler on this point, especially in Regency era books. The problem is, a lot of it was fine–I loved the use of tableaux vivants–but occasionally the details faltered, especially in the use of names which simply didn’t ring true. Even Melody doesn’t seem quite right, nor does Beth as a nickname for Elizabeth. It’s not that I know either of these were never used in the Regency era; they may have been. It’s rather that as set-dressing, they made the whole thing rather unconvincing.
I have to admit that I was also slightly annoyed by the bouquet scene, which seemed not so much simply an homage to Austen as Austen herself. The characters involved are different, but the whole thing made me roll my eyes and say, “Oh, REALLY?”
There are a number of recent fantasy books which have done the Regency period very well: the Kate and Cecy series (in the Georgette Heyer style), Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series (in the Patrick O’Brian style), and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which is probably the best of all at simply evoking that time. This book, while it has a sweet story and a fascinating premise as far as the magic goes, fails to deliver on the Regency aspect as well as I could wish. However, it’s still a good read, especially for those of you who might be a shade less likely to be nit-picky about such things.*
Book source: public library
Book information: Tor 2010; adult
*I do apologize for this; I did write a thesis, half of which was on Pride and Prejudice. Invoking Austen is as likely to incur my wrath as my pleasure. Here it’s not wrath, just mild disappointment.