In which we talk Smurfette, gender bias on Wikipedia, Redshirts, Regency magic and Captain Marvel. Also, Tansy turns the microphone off a lot so you can’t hear her sneezing. You have much to thank her for.
Shirley Jacksons! Winners announced.
A new Sleeps With Monsters column by Liz Burke: The Smurfette Principle – We Can Do Better
How Kate Middleton’s wedding gown reveals the gender bias in the Wikipedia system.
Journey Planet Issue 13 – specifically special section on gender parity for con panels including our own Alisa
The ComicCon Batgirl returned to SDCC this year, asking DC Comics about why Stephanie Brown has been removed from the Smallville comics.
What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alisa: Redshirts by John Scalzi (read by Wil Wheaton)
Tansy: The Truth by Terry Pratchett, Sherlock Holmes The Final Problem/The Empty House (Big Finish Productions), Captain Marvel & The Avenging Spider-Man #9 by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Alex: The Secret History of Moscow, Ekaterina Sedia; Salvage, Jason Nahrung; Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal
Please send feedback to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!
Edited to correct a gaff in how I refer to the author!
This is an entirely spoilery, and probably rambly, discussion of Glamour in Glass. It will also spoil the first in the series, Shades of Milk and Honey.
It’s fair to say that I adored Shades of Milk and Honey, and was really looking forward to reading the sequel. I did not love it quite as much as the first, but I think that’s mostly because it wasn’t new – the joy in Shades was in its being so new and full of the discovery of glamour and how that changed, or didn’t, the Regency period in England. Also, and yes I know I’m a terrible romantic, but the thrill of boy-meeting-girl-meeting-boy, and the trials and tribulations that follow, make for a very different story (hopefully) from that about a married couple. Not better, just different.
Anyway, the premise here is that Vincent and Jane are married – yay! – and working together – yay! Their first big commission is a huge drawing room do for the Prince Regent (… who gets called Prinny by his friends, apparently. I mean, really?). I loved that they work together, and while she is quite nervous and a bit unsure of her place and feels overwhelmed by Vincent and his experience, his attitude is entirely embracing of her and her contributions.
From there, it’s off to the Continent for them, because the Ogre – aka Napoleon – has been sent off to his island retreat, and it’s safe to go visit France, I mean Belgium, I mean the Netherlands. Vincent has a fellow glamourist to visit, and this will also serve as a honeymoon. Of course, things do not progress as expected. Vincent gets all distant, which has Jane naturally worried; even in this alternate world Napoleon quickly escapes his island and attempts to regain the imperial crown; and Jane gets pregnant. Boo, hiss, yay. Right?
Boo: absolutely. Vincent is a total prat at various times in this novel, and I was totally with Jane is being bewildered and upset with him. I was pretty sure Kowal wouldn’t turn this into an adultery plot, and even Jane doesn’t worry that that’s the problem. In fact, it’s directly related to…
Napoleon (hiss). Ah, Napoleon. I wish we had met him in this novel, but he stays off stage. I thought Kowal did a really good with depicting the tension felt in Belgium in the immediately post-Napoleon period; it was such a contested piece of territory, and showing that some people feel violently pro-France/Napoleon, while others are decidedly anti, was done very nicely. I think this could have been explored more deeply, but then – it wasn’t really the issue for Jane, outsider that she is. More of an issue for her is…
Pregnancy. Which, it turns out, is not so much a ‘yay’ here, or at least at this time, because when you’re pregnant you’re not meant to do glamour. The one big disappointment for me in the whole novel is that why is never explored or explained. I had really hoped that Jane would discover that this was a great big lie, but alas… no. In fact, she may actually confirm it, because – spoilers! – she miscarries directly after using glamour in desperation to save Vincent. Now, it’s not clear that there is a causal relationship here, and Jane herself can think of various other reasons for it, but nonetheless. There it is. And I think this is a very interesting, and potentially problematic, aspect of the whole novel.
Now, never having been pregnant myself, it may be presumptuous of me to make any comment here. But anyway: firstly, I say again that I wish there were some explanation for why no glamour when up the duff. The fact that it’s so heavily a female art makes this particular issue an additionally… interesting one. And frustrating. Moving on to Jane’s case, though, I thought Kowal wrote her reaction to pregnancy really well. Jane herself is unsure whether she’s happy about it or not: partly because she’s not sure what Vincent’s reaction will be, and partly because it will mean giving up the work that she loves and loves undertaking with him. And not being able to work takes quite a toll on Jane’s self confidence, and on her perception of her relationship with Vincent, too. This seems quite realistic, to me, and feels neither melodramatic nor purely done for plot reasons. And then she miscarries, and this too is problematic – not just for the obvious grief reasons, but because Jane feels guilt, for two reasons: for having done glamour, which might have contributed, and also because one of her first reactions is relief because she can work again. Which of course sets off its own cycle of guilt, at appearing (to herself) to be cold and hard-hearted. And this too seems quite realistic to me. I do have experience of grief and it does do weird things to the head, and I totally understand having such a mixed, involuntary, reaction. So… yeh. Interesting stuff. Certainly interesting stuff to address in what seems like a fluffy just-add-magic, Regency romance.
I really, really hope the third book – which I think is coming out this year too – has ongoing repercussions for the miscarriage, since that would be the realistic thing to do.
It is, overall, a great novel – very fast paced and mostly intriguing characters. Also, the physical product is a bit quirky: I couldn’t find the info on the type, but I’m quite sure it is (or based one) the sort of type used in ‘olde style’ Austen novels, which is nice and certainly helps it feel like it came out before 2012! I’ve read a few complaints about it not dealing with race and class and… well, yes. That’s true. The race aspect doesn’t fuss or surprise me: this is set in 1815, so it doesn’t amaze me that Jane has no experience of black people, as slaves or servants or even in the abstract, like through abolitionists or whatever. She’s not the most worldly of people, and she’s not in London or another major city most of the time, either. As for class, it’s true that her attitude towards servants is entirely that of a woman of the lower gentry, accustomed to service. She is conscious of feeling overshadowed by fancy titled ladies, but not of her own position above others. Yet… I dunno. It didn’t bug me much, to be honest. There’s not a whole lot of ordering servants around and lording itself over others, precisely because she’s not in that overwhelmingly powerful position and neither are most of the people she associates with. So this could certainly have been a more complex novel, problematising all sorts of issues from the Regency period. But it also doesn’t pretend to be that novel. And I think that’s ok.
One final irk: working glamour may be a feminine art, but who are the preeminent glamourists who get the commissions? Men. Yah.
This has been on my to-be-read list for a long time – since Tansy recommended it at least, and definitely since it won the World Fantasy Award last year (2010). It’s not really the sort of book that might immediately seem appealing to me; I don’t think the list of books that I’ve read recently and reviewed here would indicate that I’m much of a romance, or Jane Austen, reader. (Hmm. Maybe the Carriger. And possibly the Bujold if you’ve actually read them….) The reality of course is that I am a sucker for a well-written romance that isn’t set in my normal world, and that includes other interesting elements. So, Austen – because I dig the social commentary, and it is indeed so far from my own experience. Not that I’m a great Janeite; I think I’ve only read three completely? (I Could Not get through Emma. She annoyed me too much.)
Anyway. This book is described as one that Austen might have written… had she lived in a world with magic. And, yes, I could pretty much leave a review at that, except that someone else has already stolen that line and where would be the fun in such a short discussion?
Kowal has clearly and consciously set out to write a Regency romance + magic – no attempt here to hide her influences. It is a comedy of manners – and one of those comedies that falls perilously close to being a tragedy, as such things must in order to make the comedy (not the laugh-out-loud sort, but the all-coming-good sort) all the more poignant and wonderful. The main character, Jane, is very plain indeed, but possessed of a remarkable talent for manipulating glamour – the art of using magic to enhance or change appearances. In the same way that the Bennet sisters were to be skilled at the arts of music in particular, well-bred young ladies in this Regency are to be familiar with magic. Its subtle and sensible use are key to a charming, upper-class home. Jane has little hope, though, that her talents will secure her a husband, being that terribly old-maid age of 28. The plot progresses with mishaps and misunderstandings, revelations and rescues, and some utterly delightful pieces of descriptive prose.
There are a number of things that make this book a wonderful, relaxing, read – much like a bath with a book and champagne, or a spring afternoon in the sun with a book and chocolate. The first is the assurance that, because Kowal has taken Austen as her muse, you just know that things are basically going to turn out all right. Of course, it was possible that Kowal would totally throw readerly expectations, but after the first couple of chapters – discovering that the mother is Mrs Bennet to the nth degree, and observing the love-tangles – I was fairly sure that I could rely on Kowal to subvert some aspects but not the basic premise of the comedy. The second is the really wonderful description that Kowal employs throughout, which makes both the setting in general and the idea of glamour in particular come alive. There is no attempt at really explaining how glamour works - just like Austen never attempts to explain how music works. It’s simply a part of the world, this idea of folding light to create illusion.
I enjoyed all of the characters, in the same way that one does with Pride and Prejudice; Mrs Bennet may be a car crash in motion, Lydia a tornado and Wickham a particularly nasty form of blight, but they’re still fascinating to watch. A similar principle applies to Shades, although I shan’t reveal any of the character parallels (some are obvious from early on, others not so much). Jane is an appropriately plucky, thoughtful, and sensitive heroine, one that I at least could certainly empathise with. She deals with her family, friends, and neighbours in the sensible and demure way expected of a Regency lady, always aware of her her social standing and the need to protect her own and others’ reputation. The reader is afforded more of an insight into her thoughts that Austen allows, though, so we also get some of the alternatives she runs through before doing The Right Thing, which modernises her a little but not to the detriment of overall believability.
The one omission I was surprised by was the lack of reference to church, which gets just one mention I think towards the end. I would have been quite interested to see how Kowal imagined her Regency working with the actual one, where church was one of the foci of village life and the minister an important member of the community. Perhaps we will get this in the sequel, which is apparently due early next year (hooray!).
Overall this is a really lovely, gentle, engaging and joyful novel.