Shades of Milk and Honey
At 28, Jane Ellsworth should be resigned to becoming an old maid. But she can’t help hoping that some gentleman might see beyond her plain face and value her for her accomplishments in music, art and glamour – the art of creating illusions from strands of ether. But will that man be their genteel neighbour Mr Dunkirk, whose troubled sister becomes Jane’s protégée? Or maybe the brusque glamourist Mr Vincent, who clashes with her on how best to appreciate his art?
The first of Kowal’s highly-praised Glamourist Histories is set in an alternate Regency, in which the manipulation of ‘glamour’ is widespread, so it’s possibly unfair to pick on its historical inaccuracies. Most are minor points: a gentleman should offer his hand, not his arm, to his dancing partner. Only a university-trained physician can call himself ‘Dr’ – surgeons (trained through apprenticeships) should be addressed as ‘Mr’. Jane reads a novel that wasn’t published until 1848, and it’s a pretty shabby ball that offers neither supper nor card tables for those who can’t/won’t dance. More damningly, Kowal’s characters violate every rule in the Duellists’ Code – the only hope a gentleman had of being acquitted of murder in case of prosecution.
All this I would have overlooked if the characters had been more three-dimensional. In particular the behaviour of Jane’s sister Melody seems to be dictated by plot rather than psychology, e.g., she claims to be in love with one man, spends an entire evening dancing with another, then subsequently acts as if the first man is the only one she cares about. But I’m sure none of this will bother hardcore Regency fans. On the plus side, it’s refreshing to read a Regency writer who uses her own voice, instead of trying to sound like Georgette Heyer on Viagra.