Fantasy of manners is a subgenre that I didn’t realized I needed in my life. I’ve read books that technically fit the genre, such as the Infernal Devices trilogy by Cassandra Clare and Alison Goodman’s Dark Days Club, but those both felt more like YA than anything else. Because they are. This was my first experience with an adult fantasy of manners, and I loved it.
Fantasy of manners is basically if Jane Austen had included magic in her writing. And that is exactly what this book was. So much so, in fact, that some people found the novel too derivative of Austen to merit enjoyment. I beg to differ. I picked this up because I wanted to see what an Austen novel would feel like with magic involved, and that is exactly what I got. While there were a few variations, that plot line and characters were remarkably similar to the famous cast of Pride and Prejudice, but it was so well written and the characters so well developed that it felt more like an ode to Austen than a plagiarism. That’s my take, at least.
The writing was perfectly lovely, and felt exactly like it sprang from Austen’s pen. I’ve never read a Regency-inspired novel that felt this true to the original writings that inspired them, and I’ve read a good many Regency novels. The prose never felt too heavy or like the author was trying too hard to mimic her inspiration. It was convincingly Regency, yet felt fresh at the same time.
One of the loveliest aspects of this novel was the magic system. In this alternate Regency era, glamour is another of the womanly arts that eligible bachelorettes in search of a husband are expected to deftly produce. This glamour is a weaving of the magical energy alive in the air. Glamour can be applied to music, allowing it to loop after being played or producing colors and shapes that complement the tune. It can also be applied to paintings and rooms, brightening them and adding life. But the most impressive use of glamour is found in the production of glamurals, living artwork that engages all five senses. These glamurals are usually attached to rooms, and can remain as long as the room survives. Working a convincing glamural is the epitome of success for an artist, be they male or female. However, there’s a catch; working too much glamour can leading to chills, fainting, or even death in extreme cases. This makes glamour the most dangerous of the womanly arts, but the respected, as well.
While this is the first book of a series, Shades of Milk and Honey is a perfectly self-contained story, giving readers a full story with a satisfying conclusion. It makes a wonderful standalone novel, if you happen to be looking for something to provide a break from the trilogies and series that fantasy novels always seem to come in. If you love Jane Austen and magic, I can’t recommend this highly enough. And if you need a book that is hopeful and has a happily ever after ending, this novel is a breath of fresh air.