Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Shades of Milk and Honey Book Cover

Rating: 1 Star

The Ellsworths of Long Parkmead had the regard of their neighbours in every respect.


The Plot

Jane Ellsworth is a young woman gifted with a talent for glamour and cursed with a plain face. She has resigned herself to the life of a spinster, when the arrival of a mysterious artist and a dashing Captain changes everything. And there’s also their neighbour, Mr Dunkirk…


Imagine this: Jane Austen – but with magic. Sounds awesomeme, right?

Except this book is anything but.

First of all, there’s the plot. Nothing fucking happened for 2/3 of the book. There’s two sisters who need to marry. There’s two neighbours and an artist. They go to balls and dinners and make calls. That’s it.

“The FitzCamerons are giving a ball!” Mrs. Ellsworth nearly dropped her penknife. Her hands trembled making the invitation rattle like a miniature tempest.

Now if the characters are interesting and complex, I can live with such a plot. If our protagonist has a fascinating inner life, nothing much needs to happen for the book to be interesting.

Except the characters were annoying as hell.

There’s Jane, our protagonist. The one who doesn’t look like much but is an accomplished glamourist and pianist. But you know, for all that the book tries to convince us she has brains and talent instead of beauty, Jane is really dumb. Naive would probably be the kinder word, but she goes beyond naive into the dumb territory. Her sister basically shoves her secret love into her face and she doesn’t get it. Her sister is a spoilt little brat that treats her like shit but she doesn’t get it.

You know the type martyred saint? Those better-than-thou good people that courageously suffer in silence? Jane’s one. And it’s fucking annoying. I’d rather read about someone who explodes and behaves atrociously than about a martyred saint.

Jane knew well that she was past what small bloom youth had provided her. She had resigned herself to life as a spinster; there were certainly less honourable ways to spend one’s declining years than attending to the comforts of one’s parents.

I wanted her to whack that dumbass sister of hers over the head once or twice. It would have done both of them good. Instead, she is proper. And polite. And silent. And suffers. And is so boring.

Rising with more decorum, Jane took a moment to set her paints in order before following her mother and sister out of the room.

Oh and her sister, Melody! I hated Melody with a passion. She is such a spoilt brat. She treats her sister like shit. She takes her stuff whenever she wants, she has her dancing after her own pipe and begging her for one more kick, please.

“I do not need to be lectured by you, dear sister, to know what I have done.” Melody stood abruptly, without any sign of the injury she had claimed. “I confided in you, hoping that you would understand my very real torment, but you have thrown my confidence back in my face.

And Melody keeps saying La! when she talks. It’s really, really annoying.

“Captain Livingston! If there is a more handsome, graceful man, I know not where to find him. His is all that is courtesy. And wit! La!

There’s nothing sisterly about those two. If they weren’t sisters they should be arch-nemesis. But it’s okay because, you see Melody only treats her sister like that because she is jealous of her accomplishments!

I didn’t care one whit about any of these characters.

And then there’s the final blow: The magic!

The magic in this book is called glamour. What can you do with glamour? You can change your face. You can make yourself invisible. Or make yourself look like a tree. You can shroud a whole field in darkness. You can bend light so that you can witness conversations taking place elsewhere – and record those conversations!

What do they use it for? Decoration.

Sure, there’s a war going on with Napoleon, so making yourself invisible might come in handy, but hey, let’s use our most talented glamourists to paint pretty pictures. And look down upon men using glamour because they are not helping in the war effort.


This book is dumb. The characters are dumb and annoying. Our protagonist is a doormat. She doesn’t act, she lets things happen to her. The romance is laughably idiotic. There’s no chemistry between any of the characters, romantic or otherwise.

It’s a shame because: Regency, but with magic! It could have been amazing. Sadly, it’s just boring.


2 thoughts on “Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

    • It’s really a shame. The story could have been amazing 😦
      And you’re right, it’s a beautiful cover! It was one of the reasons I picked up the book 😉

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