Tag Archives: mary robinette kowal

The Fated Sky

Unknown.jpegDon’t be like me: if you think you might like to read The Calculating Stars, just buy this at the same time. Because otherwise you’ll get to the end of the first and you’ll be forced to cry NOOOO and shake your first at the sky because you can’t go immediately on to this.

Trust me on this. (Also I can’t believe I didn’t review Stars when I read it. Oops.)

Elma York is a scientist and a pilot. There’s a dreadful catastrophe on Earth in 1952, and from that point history is different from our history, because humanity’s attempts to get to space happen much, much faster, from necessity rather than hubris or curiosity.

York is female, and Jewish. It’s the female bit that leads to most of her personal difficulties; it seems to me that Kowal pulls no punches when it comes to laying out the sexism of the 1950s and 60s. I often found it distressing to read about. And it’s not only that which is distressing. There’s also the racism: York herself, while not actively racist, is complicit in the systemic racism of her time because so often she simply isn’t aware of the experiences of the not-white folks around her. And her attempts to ‘help’ are often blundering. I do like that Kowal shows York learning from her mistakes – sometimes because she is actively shown what she has done, or what society has done; sometimes she thinks her way there personally. She’s certainly never perfect, though – she’s a product of her times.

And then, in terms of things that can be hard to read about, York also suffers from anxiety. Although I do not myself suffer from it, it was reading about this that perhaps affected me most. The way it physically affects her, and the way those around her react, and the reasons for it existing or being exacerbated. Kowal writes about it exquisitely (said the person for whom it is largely unfamiliar, so take that into account).

I really feel like these books are perfect for 2018.

I don’t want to spoil either book, so I won’t go into much detail of the plot, but of course humanity’s efforts to reach space and work there are more successful in the books than in real life; otherwise there wouldn’t be two books (AND, so excite, at least two more planned!!) about it. But it’s fair to say that there is no plain sailing – which is as you would expect from Kowal, frankly, and indeed from any early-space-reaching novel attempting verisimilitude.

I love these books with a great passion. They tore at my heart, and made me angry for the way people are stupid for stupid reasons; they made me happy for the fact that there are good people, too, striving to do what is right and sometimes failing but also keeping on going, often in the face of terrible opposition. I love Kowal’s writing and I love the pacing of these stories and I cannot, cannot wait to read more set in this world.

Forest of Memory

This book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost.

26883415.jpgMary Robinette Kowal takes the idea of memory and its fallibility as her central theme in this novella, and pairs it with the ever-fascinating ideas of narrative, and unreliable narrators, and their motivations.

Kowal’s narrator lives in a world of permanent connection, through her intelligent system, and a world of permanent life-casting – ideas that have a strong hold on the world of science fiction writing at the moment. I was strongly reminded of Ted Chiang’s awesome “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling.” That story is a much more rigorous exploration of the same general themes, not least because it is much longer and because it pairs those themes with ideas connecting language and meaning and memory. The two work really nicely together.

Anyway, Katya is telling a story to persons unknown who have asked for the story of three days when she was offline. (The page before the story opens has this dedication: “For Jay Lake and Ken Scholes / Who asked me to tell them a story” – which is pretty amusing in context.) She is a dealer in Authenticities, meaning old stuff with wabi-sabi (a Japanese term, she explains, of something that witnesses and records the graceful decay of life), as well as Captures on the side – that is, she sells the record of her personal experiences. The difficulty she has, of course, is that for the three days she was offline she will need to rely on her own memories, rather than asking for a replay from her i-sys. She is super aware of the possibilities here of her own unreliability, reflecting on them and looping back on herself as she considers whether or not to trust herself. It’s a wonderfully constructed piece of worry.

There’s not a whole lot of action in the story, really, and it raises enormous questions about the world in which it’s set and the reasons for why someone wants Katya’s story. I rather hope that Kowal might consider writing more stories, or a novel, set in this world and further exploring the issues raised.

Galactic Suburbia 124

An all culture consumed special (with a little awards chat just for old time’s sake). You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

Hugo Awards update – how we voted. If you’re voting, get in before the eleventh hour!

World Fantasy Awards: Aussies on the ballot.

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: The Almighty Johnsons; Wayward Pines

Alex: Arrow season 1; Beauty, Sheri S Tepper; Poseidon’s Wake, Alastair Reynolds; Of Noble Family, Mary Robinette Kowal

Tansy: Uncanny Magazine No. 5: “Midnight Hour” by Mary Robinette Kowal, “Woman at Exhibition” by E. Lily Yu, “Ghost Champagne” by Charlie Jane Anders, “Catcall” by Delilah S Dawson, Natalie Luhrs “Ethics of Reviewing”. Black Canary #1. Glitch.

In August we will be reading:
James Tiptree Jr: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon, Julie Phillips
“Houston, Houston Do You Read?” and “Your Faces, O my Sisters, your Faces filled of Light!” by James Tiptree Jr.

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook, support us at Patreon and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

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.

UnknownIn 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.

Valour and Vanity

I continue to adore these books. That’s all you really need to know, right?

Valour-and-VanityThis is the fourth book in the Glamourist Histories, in which Mary Robinette Kowal creates an alt version of the English Regency period and gives it ‘glamour’, a form of magic that is generally used to decorate the sitting rooms of the gentry but which can also (we discovered in the last book) be used to create cold, and which maybe just might have military uses as well. I think this book could stand by itself – glamour isn’t that hard to comprehend and the relationships between the two main characters, Jane and Vincent, and their respective families are both spelled out and not vitally important to the plot. But of course, WHY would you want this book to stand by itself? Just read all of them!

If you haven’t yet read the series, there was a spoiler in the first paragraph – sorry – Jane and Vincent end up married. But come on, this is an historical romance with magic; yes I’m sure ‘grimdark’ has made its mark on that genre somewhere, but it’s not here and that’s quite nice, thankyouverymuch. So things generally end up nice at the end… but if you’ve never read this genre and you assume this means everything is always roses, HECK NO. Kowal is quite happy to put her characters through very nasty events. Here, Jane and Vincent are off to visit Murano (near Venice) to visit the glassblowers, but their ship is hijacked and they end up penniless in Murano. In a world without fast communication or access to emergency funds, in a country where they know no one. They’ve never been filthy rich, but neither of them have ever struggled like this before.

There are many things I loved about this novel.

1. Jane and Vincent’s relationship. How often do we get beautiful, complicated married relationships at the core of a story? Where although they’re hitched, there’s still romance… and where complications are real and frightening but working them out is a real and worthwhile goal. I just love this portrayal of love in marriage, not least because it’s not perfect. Both of them do detrimental things, but it’s not the end of the world – and it’s not simply ignored, either, but worked out and worked through.

2. Jane. Jane Jane Jane. Determined, fragile, strong, plucky, innocent, smart. And with marvellous flashes of feminism – she knows Mary Wollstonecraft, hurrah.

3. “The magical adventure that might result if Jane Austen wrote Ocean’s Eleven.” That’s from the blurb, and forgets that Austen didn’t write magic, but anyway whatever. Yes, the plot. Oh my goodness. A heist! Double dealing, shenanigans, gondolas and magic and puppeteers (heh – Kowal is one herself) and nuns. Also international conspiracies and disguises and Byron.*

4. The prose. It’s delightful and ever so readable and captures the places and people beautifully. I don’t love fashion – I’m closer to Vincent than to Jane in my reaction to the necessity to purchase clothes – but Kowal’s attention to detail and simplicity of description amuse even me.

5. It’s not the same as the others. I’d probably still read it, even if it was the same sort of adventures over and over again, but it’s not. Well, there are similarities – difficulties to be overcome, new people to meet and either befriend or contend with – but Jane and Vincent do actually grow and develop over time, and the sorts of problems they face are also different.

6. Issues. This series makes no claims to tackling major issues, but they certainly do not ignore them. The class issues have been present, sometimes as undercurrent and sometimes overtly, from the start – never solved, but certainly problematised. Race appeared as a serious issue in the last book and is acknowledged here as well. Gender is always an issue; that Jane is competent and works as a glamourist, that Vincent is excelling in a traditionally feminine sphere – both of these continue to be part of the complex society presented, along with other problematic aspects of gender relations in the period.

You can get Valour and Vanity over at Fishpond. And you want to. Seriously.

*Don’t worry, not a lot of Byron. Just enough to be amusing but not enough (in my opinion) to get eye-rolly.

Galactic Suburbia 89

Eurosong_2012_1In which we recommend books to buy as presents, books we love, books we made, and basically BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS. You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

Alisa’s picks: 2012; Trucksong; A Trifle Dead; Rosaleen Love’s Twelve Planets collection; the entire Twelve Planets suite (get them while they look the same! especially Love & Romanpunk)

Alex’s picks: Temeraire by Naomi Novik; Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman; Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal; Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin; House of Suns by Alistair Reynolds

Tansy’s picks:
Glitter and Mayhem; Chicks Unravel Time; The Wife in Space; The Worst Witch books by Jill Murphy; Creature Court trilogy (Power and Majesty)

Culture Consumed:

Alex: Reap the Wild Wind, Julie Czerneda; Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

Tansy: Flying Higher eds by Michael Damian Thomas & Shira Lipkin [download free from Smashwords], Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time 1-4, Supurbia by Grace Randolph, Elizabeth Sladen the Autobiography, The She-Hulk Diaries by Marta Acosta

Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal

BLATANT PLUG: Songs For Europe, two short plays about Eurovision & war by John Richards of Splendid Chaps & Lee Zachariah of the Bazura Project on this week only as part of the Melbourne Fringe.

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, 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!

Without a Summer: the third Glamourist History

The following has spoilers for Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass, I guess. Seriously, why haven’t you read them yet?


I read this quite a long time ago, and I have no real excuse for not having reviewed it earlier; it’s certainly no reflection on the story. Is it a good story? Yes. Does it fit in well with the other two Glamour novels? Yes. I think that this is the sort of book you don’t need to read the review of, if you’ve already read the others or like the idea of Jane Austen with magic (basically). Actually that’s not quite right… this one, in particular, is more like Elizabeth Gaskell with magic – and I say that having only watched film/TV versions of Gaskell, but given she’s described as Austen with ethics (that is, a more explicit examination of society and ethics than Austen), I feel I can make that claim. Because here Kowal does get into some discussion of class, in particular, and race as well.

The idea of a year ‘without a summer’ is actually based on fact; 1816 was a year that felt summer-less, because of the effects of volcanic ash from an eruption in the ‘East Indies’ as Kowal describes it. For the sake of the novel, Kowal introduces the idea of blaming this on coldmongers – people whose glamour is particularly attuned to making cold, so they get jobs doing things like keeping food or rooms cool. The story has both political aspects – which revolves especially around class – and personal aspects, which also revolves around class and race but also around family relationships.

The political: this is a time of Luddites, and issues of unemployment; tie in the cold, and fear of glamourists, and there’s a very dangerous situation brewing. It would be hard to talk about that without giving away some of the details whose revelation is part of the delight of the story, so I won’t. Suffice to say that the concerns Kowal raises fit perfectly into the period, and complement the personal issues going on for Jane and Vincent perfectly.

The personal: Jane and Vincent are faced with a number of issues to deal with, and to my delight not all of them are dealt with easily. The one that most struck me, by the end, was Jane’s relationship with her sister Melody. Pride and Prejudice hints at the difficulty of older and younger sisters relating, as does Sense and Sensibility – but these tend to show the older as being in the right, and the younger as needing to be tamed in some way. Kowal does very clever things here with that trope; Jane and Melody’s relationship is more realistic, and more painful, than in the Austens – and this makes the story the more uncomfortable and real as a result. Secondly, there’s the introduction of Vincent’s family. They’ve been less than shadows to this point; all that we’ve known is that Vincent has cut himself off in order to be a glamourist, and his family don’t approve – and that they’re from High Standing. They arrive with a vengeance here, and Kowal spares no mercy. Vincent definitely comes out of the whole thing as a more impressive man for overcoming the family issues that he was dealt.

Some of the other issues facing the pair mingle with the political. In particular, they are confronted by race issues, both because many of the coldmongers – whose problems they can hardly help themselves from being involved with, touching as it does on glamour more generally – are black, and because one of the families they end up heavily involved with are Irish. This may seem strange to those without knowledge of how the United Kingdom worked in the nineteenth century; but as Kowal points out in her afterword, at this time “the notion of ‘white’ excluded not only people of Anglo-African or Anglo-Indian descent but also Irish” (356). Some of Jane’s own prejudices are confronted, along with those of London at large – not comfortably, but I think, for the reader anyway (at least, this white reader; I won’t try to imagine how to read it as someone confronted with racism on a regular basis) in a sympathetic manner. That is, not that the racism is easy to read, but the confronting of it is more like what 21st century tolerant sensibilities would prefer.

I’m sure I had more to say when I originally read this, but – the characters remain engaging and delightful, Kowal continues to find genuine circumstances for them to interact with, and her style remains a delight to read. I’m not sure if I want more stories here; there would surely be a danger of Jane and Vincent turning into the unexpected epicentre of everything interesting in 19th-century England, which would end up being silly. And would insist on bringing up the issue of pregnancy and children… which might not be a bad thing, I just can’t think how it would be done. But then, I’m not an author. Maybe I should just Kowal to know what is best for her characters…

You can get Without a Summer from Fishpond.

Galactic Suburbia 64!

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

The Secret History of Moscow, Ekaterina Sedia; Salvage, Jason Nahrung; Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, 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!

Glamour in Glass (and spoilers)

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.

Shades of Milk and Honey are delicious

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.