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.
I’ll be in Seattle tonight to read from Shades of Milk and Honey at UW bookstore (4326 University Way N.E., Seattle, WA, 98105) at 7pm. As a bonus, I’ll also perform The Broken Bridge, which is the shadow puppet play from Chapter 10 of the novel. It’s a shadow play from 1874.
And I’ll be in costume, so those of you at Steamcon can pretend it’s all part of the same thing.
I recently overheard some professional writers talking about NaNoWriMo and a number of them thought it was a waste of time and that the folks who did it were wannabes.
When you are getting your legs, writing long form is really intimidating. The internal editor kicks in and will eat your brain alive. My first novel took me ten years to write and it sucks.
The second novel, I wrote a chapter a week for my niece and nephew. It sucks less. The lesson here isn’t that writing faster is better, it’s that it takes time to learn to write — or more accurately, it takes writing. NaNoWriMo is a good way to get into the saddle and write.
For me, NaNoWriMo does two things. It turns my internal editor off and it gives me a deadline to write to. You know what? 2000 words a day is dead simple and I’d never have realized how easy it was to maintain that pace if I hadn’t given it a try.
I’ve “won” NaNoWriMo three times and gave myself that structure for a fourth novel because I like writing to a deadline.
Here’s how I approached NaNoWriMo when I wrote Shades of Milk and Honey.
I spend the months leading up to November making plans.
I cranked out the first 50,000 in November, adjusting the plan as necessary.
I stopped. Reread what I’d written and evaluated the overall structure.
I wrote the remaining part of the novel over a three-month period, which involved throwing out six chapters equaling 20,000 words.
The point of NaNoWriMo isn’t to have a finished, ready-to-submit novel on December 1. It’s to get that first draft down on the page and stop talking about writing it someday.
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.
Jon Armstrong and I got to know each other when he interviewed his fellow Campbell nominees for his podcast, If You’re Just Joining Us. We hit it off and became friends so when he asked if I’d be on his podcast again, I jumped at the chance. It’s a fun conversation. But…
But. Jon knows me well enough to have heard me tell puppet stories that I don’t normally share in interviews. This one is not safe for work.
She and I talked about her book, Jane Austen, and a not-to-be-missed story about that not-safe-for-work puppet. And seriously, this podcast contains material that some may find offensive, although it’s nothing vulgar, just a part of the male anatomy.
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.
In what may be one of my favorite reviews, the English Tea Store has been having Jackie Gamber, a lover of both tea and science fiction, suggest pairings of novels and teas.
Here’s a taste of what she says…
English Tea Store brand Ginger Tea is a classic tea with a twist. The high-quality black tea leaves brew into a rich, golden liquid just right for polite tea society, yet the mild ginger brings a hint of glamor and heat to the overall sipping experience.It’s similar to what you’ll find in reading Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey…
I picked this up on a whim after hearing a lot of good things about Brent Weeks. Holy cow. What an amazing ride. He is cruel and vicious to his characters and continually kicks them when they are down. That’s part of what makes it so good. The other part is that he does all of this action while continuing to build believable characters and a world that is original. It all holds together so beautifully.
Have I mentioned that I love the magic system?
Okay… so you know that glamour, my magic system, is light based but entirely illusionary. Brent’s system is also light based but not even a little bit illusionary. This is what people talk about when they say that there are no unique ideas. Writing isn’t about the ideas so much as what you do with those ideas.
I mean, basically our magic systems both start from a point of “the magic is a manipulation of light” and then diverge wildly from there. With Brent’s a drafter — his magicians — can convert light into solids. His form of light magic has different physical properties and affects the person who drafts in specific ways. It is a consistent and coherent system.
In other places I’ve talked about how the hardest thing with the magic system in Shades of Milk and Honeywas to avoid breaking history. That if I let it do too much, the Regency wouldn’t be the Regency. If you want to see an entire world that is shaped by the use and existence of a light-based magic that has practical effects, check out The Black Prism.
Oh, there are other reasons to read it. I very, sincerely enjoyed the book. I love flawed characters and this story is chock full of them. Flawed people who are trying to do the right thing and it just gets them into deeper trouble.
But, from a purely theoretical standpoint, what you have here are two books that are very different in type. Giant Swashbuckling Epic Fantasy vs. Very Quiet Romantic Historical Fantasy and yet both have magic systems that appear to start with the same basic idea: What if you could manipulate light?
Storytelling isn’t the idea, it’s what you do with it.
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
Mr. Dunkirk engaged to call by four o’clock on the morrow.
When Jane left them, to rejoin her mother and sister, she could scarce believe the turn the afternoon had taken. Mrs. Ellsworth and Melody were no less disbelieving when Jane told them of what had caused her delay in Madame Beaulieu’s Haberdashery.
“I must say that Mr. Dunkirk took exceeding advantage of your good nature in keeping you in the store as if you were a common shopclerk,” Mrs. Ellsworth said. “I had thought better of him.”
“No Mama, I assure you, he was most apologetic. I think, with only the one sister, and so much difference in their age, that Mr. Dunkirk is so far removed from an understanding of a modiste’s role that he took great comfort in having the assistance of a neighbor.”
“Did you not tell him that Madame Beaulieu was more than equal to the task?” Melody said, frowning.
“Of course, but still Miss Dunkirk is such a charming young woman, that I did not mind in the least.” Jane continued, “I have invited them to visit tomorrow.”
Mrs. Ellsworth and Melody exclaimed at this and spent the remainder of the afternoon planning for Mr. Dunkirk and Miss Dunkirk’s visit.
The reason I cut the scene was that it placed too much emphasis on the Dunkirk’s visit. Since I needed the ball to be Chapter Three, one would have gone into the scene wondering about the Dunkirk’s visit so I removed the immediacy of the engagement to visit.
(Tor Books — August 21, 2018) Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars. Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, […]