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.
Milk and Honey is a mash-up of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility. Plain Jane Ellsworth is relegated to spinster status at 28, in the shadow of her prettier sister Melody. But Jane is extremely skillful at conjuring glamours, the womanly art of magically folding the ether. Jane's talents catch the eye of eligible bachelor Mr. Dunkirk, who Melody also has her eye on. But the mysterious glamourist Mr. Vincent is also lurking about, along with rakish Captain Livingston. Austen-esque intrigues ensue.
Kowal's novel flawlessly uses magic as a natural byproduct of Regency social mores: The exertion of doing magic makes Jane lightheaded and faint, like the vapors. Men are rarely able to comprehend the intricacies of domestic glamours—as Miss Ellsworth puts it, "Arts allow one a safe outlet for passions which could not otherwise be borne... Is it not better to spend one's excess energy in the act of creation than to allow oneself to become overwhelmed?" Kowal's remixing of Regency parlor life affords new and honest-feeling outlets of creative expression in a repressed age.