Jane Austin has a number of imitators but rarely do any of those imitators come close to capturing what truly makes her works stand the test of time. I’m sorry to say that Shades of Milk and Honey doesn’t capture that magic either. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad book, it’s an enjoyable read, but I don’t think it’s a great book either. Rather it’s an imitation of a masterpiece, fine to look at but nothing memorable.
Kowal does attempt to imbue something new to Austin’s work with the addition of the art of Glamour, a kind of illusion magic. Glamour is treated exactly as all the other arts a lady would know in Austin’s era such as dancing, painting, music, etc. It’s an interesting concept and the magic slides neatly into this Austin style romance.
My biggest issue is that there’s none of Austin’s sharp wit or her ability to really skewer society in this book. The characters are pulled straight from Austin’s novels to the point where I would think to myself, well that’s Maryanne, and that’s Mr. Churchill, and that’s Darcy’s sister. But the characters are without the sharp skewering of Austin’s pen. And if you’ve read any of Austin’s novels, then you know exactly what is going to happen and who these characters are, which eliminates any kind of suspense. Kowal does stray a bit at the end, adding a piece of melodrama more in line with a modern idea of the era then something that would honestly fit into one of Austin’s novels. Unfortunately because Kowal stayed so true to Austin’s work throughout the novel, this piece of straying actually detracted rather then added to my enjoyment. It’s like looking at a student’s attempt to copy Van Gogh’s Stary Night except they added a bit of Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup in one corner to stir things up. Not quite so jarring as that, but it does give you an idea.
The thing is, for all that I think the novel is far too true to Austin’s work to really stand on it’s own as a novel, I don’t really regret reading it. It’s a sweet book, and it was a fairly quick read as it’s a fairly light and simple book. I think if you enjoy Austin style romances you’d probably enjoy this one.