Of Noble Family
Spoilers for the previous four books, I guess (first, second, third, fourth).
Things I love about this series:
It’s about married people being in love, even after being married for a few years. They even still have sex. With each other. Willingly.
It’s about married people having issues and problems – with one another and with the world – and, in general, working them out together.
The magic is really delightful and intriguing.
Kowal confronts relevant issues of the time in both a 19th century and a 21st century way.
Jane is just so AWESOME.
In this, the final (sigh) novel of the Glamourist Histories, Vincent is forced once again to confront his family background, and come to terms with it more than previously. He does so in Antigua, whence his father had fled some time ago… to his sugar cane plantation, and thus his slaves. Vincent and Jane travel to Antigua, and Kowal tackles the delicate and problematic issue of how to talk about slaves and slavery in an acceptable, humane, and true-to-19th-and-21st-century ideas way. Overall, I think she manages ell.
Jane was fairly well developed in the first book, as the main point of view character. She has changed and matured over the series, but it hasn’t been a surprising exploration of her character; our understanding has deepened, not changed. Vincent, however – his character has really been the focus, and continues to be in this book. And I think this makes sense, since it’s a lot about a woman learning about her beloved; a beloved who has for years been reserved for the sake of survival, discovering that love means he doesn’t have to be that way, thus learning about Jane what the reader already knows.
On the issue of slavery… I’m going to assume that Kowal did her homework; I’ve trusted her in other areas and it seems right to do so here. The one aspect I was… somewhat dubious, or afraid, of, was the language of the enslaved Africans. Happily for my state of mind, she speaks very clearly in her Afterword about the efforts she went to in order to get the dialects ‘right’, so that relieved me. As did the pointed discussion from some the Africans themselves that they were from different nations – that they spoke different languages, had different traditions with magic, and so on, no matter that white eyes might see them all the same. It made my heart sing.
Which brings me to the other bit that I really loved: the discussion of magic, and the differences in tradition between a European model and the different African traditions; that the words and ideas you use to try and explain magic will then actually impact on your use of magic. This was so cool!
It’s not all lovely; there are some distinctly distressing and unpleasant moments. But this is, at heart, a romance. And it’s comforting to know that this is the sort of romance where the characters do get to live together in harmony, despite and sometimes because of the difficulties they have endured.
And this time, I picked the Doctor. Not the first time he was mentioned, but I did find him. I am a little smug about that.
I’m so sad that this is the end, but I respect the author’s decision not to keep dragging Jane and Vincent through increasingly unlikely adventures just to keep mad readers like me entertained. And it’s not like I won’t be rereading the stories in future.