There are few things that please me as much as a librarian’s approbation. When it is the librarian from my home town? It makes the day full of rainbows and kittens.
I grew up in Raleigh, NC and spent most of my summers in the Wake County Library system. They’ve just reviewed Shades of Milk and Honey. It’s a staff pick!
Kowal chose a fitting title for this Regency Era-with-a-magical-twist novel, for I found it both light and sweet. Jane Ellsworth, 28, has resigned herself to spinsterhood, but is still young enough to be jealous of her younger sister, Melody’s, beauty and likelihood of making a good marriage match. Melody, in turn, is envious of Jane’s talent with all the womanly arts that make a lady accomplished – especially her skill with glamour.
I got a lovely email today, letting me know that Shades of Milk and Honeyis a SLC Reader’s Choice nominee. You all know how much I adore libraries, so to be on this list is a real honor.
The Salt Lake County Library System is the largest in Utah, serving over 650,000 residents, through 18 libraries. Twice a year, the Reader’s Choice Committee selects twenty or more recently published books that have been recommended by other staff or customers. We want to include those titles that are not a “best-sellers” but are so good you just can’t put them down — and when you do finish, you have to tell all your friends! These books are purchased in multiples and placed on display at each Salt Lake County Library for a four-month period. After reading any of the books on our Reader’s Choice list, customers may rate the books using one of our ballot forms.
Twenty-nine titles have been chosen for the voting period. The title receiving the most #1 votes from our customers by November 1, 2011 will be declared the winner.
Yay! Our hometime independent paper, The Portland Mercury not only reviewed Shades of Milk and Honey but also liked it!
Wish Jane Austen’s subtle novels had a little more action, but fewer zombies? Well, Portlander Mary Robinette Kowal’s debut novel Shades of Milk and Honey is your new manna. In this age of Regency spinning, it’s apparent Austen’s books make a well-stretched canvas for fantasy and sci-fi authors to paint upon. Kowal’s novel is a shining example of how to seamlessly blend magic with empire-waisted romance.
It is so very, very gratifying when someone gets what I was trying to do with the Austeninan aspect of Shades of Milk and Honey.
Jane Austen famously described her novels — in a description subsequently often quoted to denigrate her work and that of other female writers, either overtly or through a backhanded head-pat — as “The little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush as produces little effect after much labour.” Mary Robinette Kowal’s first novel, Shades of Milk and Honey, is deeply in that Austenian tradition, and will certainly garner a few head-pats of its own, from the clueless and the sensation-addicted. But writing a novel this quiet, this domestic and constrained and pure, in the early 21st century — not to mention doing it in a genre as entirely built on external action and what teenage boys call “adventure” as fantasy — is surely one of the most radical things that any writer could hope to do, a perfectly shaped and wielded knitting needle thrust, with all the best taste and tact possible, right into the Achilles heel of the genre.
The San Francisco Chronicle just posted their list of the Best science fiction and fantasy books of 2010. Shades of Milk and Honey is on there!
Kowal presents a tale of romance in Regency England with just a sprinkling of fantasy. Able to pull “glamour” out of the ether and create intricate tableaux that trick the eye and delight the mind, Jane Ellsworth yearns for true love but believes herself to be too old and too plain to catch any bachelor’s eye. This low-key novel succeeds through understated humor and sprightly prose, rather than through absurd juxtapositions of the historical and the supernatural.
Aidan Moher at Dribble of Ink has a very nice review of Shades of Milk and Honey. One thing that pleases me is that he points out that this is not a typical fantasy novel. I think some people have been surprised by the structure of it, since it does hew more closely to Jane Austen than to a classic quest structure.
In the end, it’s the story of a girl navigating her way through a stuffy society and a love triangle formed by three very different bachelors. Will it appeal to all Fantasy readers? Unlikely. Will it appeal to most Fantasy readers? Also no. Will it appeal to those looking for something unusual in the genre, those looking for an easy, charming read amongst the sea of fireballs, gritty warfare and morally grey characters flooding the genre? Absolutely. Kowal is best known for her short fiction, but Shades of Milk and Honey shows that she has what it takes to produce beautiful fiction no matter the length. It’s the perfect rainy-day novel and, though Jane’s story has been told, I cannot wait to see what else Kowal has up her sleeve.
Shades of Milk and Honeyis a heartfelt and sincere homage to a figure who’s influenced perhaps more writers than Tolkien. It’s never less than delightful, and is surprisingly effective in the way MaryRob’s fantasy elements convey themes consistent with those of Austen herself.
Right after I left WFC yesterday, my wonderful publicist emailed me with some awesome news and, of course, I had no one to squee with. Shades of Milk and Honey has been nominated for an RT Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Fantasy Novel 2010!
It’s such an honor to be on the ballot with so many authors whose books I love. The awards ceremony is in LA at the RT Booklovers Convention, April 6-11. This year, the ceremony will take place on Thursday, April 7th from 4:00-6:00 pm. I had already been thinking about going because I’ve heard great things about the convention and this cements the decision.
Kowal sets her own mark on this kind of comedy of manners and creates a low-key and witty debut novel, one that succeeds through understated humor and sprightly prose, rather than through absurd juxtapositions of the historical and the supernatural.
Bookshelves of Doom says “Mary Robinette Kowal’s writing is both descriptive and tight — again and again, a few lines would give me a detailed image of the scene. I saw everything, and in a book that deals heavily with making art, that is a good thing. More simply: I fell into the world of this book, and I was sad when it was over.”
Born Reader asks some interesting questions after reading Shades of Milk and Honey including, “Do you think the arts succeed most when you’re not thinking about the mechanics, or do you get more out of a book or painting or what have you by analyzing and appreciating? Or is it somewhere in between?”
Mordecai, a reader on LiveJournal, talks about his experience with the book and the end of it makes me very happy. “Miss Elssworth isn’t suddenly given to modern notions of feminism; but there is little doubt to her intellegence & will. Her lot in life is difficult– as a woman, as a plain woman, & as a talented woman– but we are given her without apology, without allowances made for our expectations. There is no cheating. She is a “proper lady” operating entirely in her historical context, & a thoroughly compelling character because of it.”
I am all astonished. The Jane Austen Centre in Bath has a review of Shades of Milk and Honey on their website AND wrote to let me know that they were planning on sending the review out with their newsletter.
Let me repeat that: The Jane Austen Centre. Likes. My. Novel.
John Ottinger writes about the book in detail and wraps up by saying:
Shades of Milk and Honey could easily fit into Austen’s canon, except of course for the inclusion of magic. Kowal has captured both the style and content of an Austen novel, adding her own speculative fiction twist, and readers who enjoyed such novels as Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell will find this novel appealing as well. Readers of period romances have a crossover novel into the speculative fiction genre, and casual rather than critical Austen readers have a book that hits all the high points of Austen’s dialogue and plotting while still having its own identity. Highly recommended reading for everyone and one I suspect will garner award nominations from several genres.
So you may imagine my further delight when Laura Boyle, who edits the online magazine, let me know that this month’s issue was quietly themed around ideas from my novel, including an article on what Tableux Vivants were like in the real world’s Regency. I didn’t make them up, I just reimagined them withglamour.
August 2010’s RT Seal of Excellence was Shades of Milk and Honey! I’m seriously delighted by this. Here are some comments from one of the editors on why my debut novel won the honor.
“So often in a fantasy novel, the magic of the world is hastily wound around the characters and plot. However, Kowal’s glamours are so artfully integrated that, after reading this book, it is almost difficult to think of the Regency without the magic. This story is one of subtlety and includes ethereal events, exquisite prose, delicately drawn characters and tender emotions.” – RT Web Editor Morgan Doremus
The Strand, which is the big independent bookstore in NYC is offering a half-off sale on Shades of Milk and Honey. Note that they only have four copies actually in stock. Their staff also offered the following review of the book.
‘Shades of Milk and Honey’ is a captivating debut novel from Mary Robinette Kowal set in an alternate Regency England, where magic and manipulation rule the day. Though Dorchester society is magical, it is not that different from the regency society we know: Advantageous marriage is still a woman’s only way to thrive in society. At the age of twenty-eight, Jane Ellsworth is unlikely to find a husband, so she concentrates on honing her magical skills, while her sister, Melody, is courted by many beaus. But when the family’s goo name is threatened, Jane must do whatever it takes to put things right – and she might just find love in the process. Witty, intriguing, and romantic, this is a must-read.
Over on the Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia, there’s a chance to win two copies of Shades of Milk and Honey, thanks to celi.a who seems to have fallen in love with my novel. Here’s how her review starts off:
I found myself proclaiming to my friends that I’d found ‘the perfect book’ yesterday. I didn’t mean that it was THE perfect book for all time and all people. I did mean that I’d found the book that feels as if it was written expressly for me, because it fits my tastes perfectly. And luckily for the rest of you, it’s also well-written, so there’s a chance that you’ll find it just as enchanting as I did.
She goes on to talk about why she likes it AND THEN offers to give away two copies. Here’s the end of the review with the giveaway details.
Recommended for: historical fiction and subtle fantasy fans, Regency-era devotees, readers who view Austen as the comfort food of the book world, and anyone looking for a beautiful read with strong art overtones and a classic feel.
I’m giving away two copies of this book, because I loved it, and I want other people to love it too. Also, when I tried to buy it at Borders I found that they’re not carrying it in stores. Travesty!
Leave a comment on this post with a word or phrase that makes you think of milk or honey. Synonyms, colors, associations, whatever you want – write it down!
Please include a method of contact. Giveaway is open internationally. Comments will close on September 15 at 11:59pm EST, and I will notify the randomly selected winners via email.
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