For the past year or so, I've been making a special effort to read more books by women and minorities. I decided to do this after realizing that the last ten books I'd read had been by white dudes. I knew there was tons of books out there by women and POC, but that they weren't marketed nearly as heavily, so they didn't end up on my radar.
The first book I picked up was by Mary Robinette Kowal. I listen to her podcast, Writing Excuses, and I'd always found her to be the most thoughtful voice of all the hosts. Though I wasn't sure how much I'd like the setting (I'm not much for Regency era literature), I decided it was time to throw money her way.
I have a subscription to Audible, so I picked up the unabridged audiobook. I was a bit worried that she narrated it herself, but then remembered that her background is in theater. Surely, if anyone can nail a reading, she can.
And she did.
Shades is set in Regency England in a world where magic is real, but used mostly for decoration and entertainment. Strands of glamour can be pulled from the ether and manipulated to create visual and auditory illusions. The rich hire glamourists to decorate their ballrooms and sitting rooms, while musicians use it to enhance their performances.
The book follows a classic Austin plot, which features marriage, family matters, local gossip and politics, and lots and lots of ettiquette. What I didn't expect was how accessible it would be. I haven't read an Austin book since high school, and yet I could follow along without any issues. I didn't need to know what each carriage was and why it was significant that someone's carriage had a ruffle or whatever. What was important was spelled out, and the rest was dropped in favor of a more fluid story.
The main character charmed me. Jane is the daughter of a well-to-do upper class family. Plain and polite, she's a master glamourist, and is making peace with the fact that her pretty younger sister will probably be married while she never will be. She's even beginning to look forward to being the maiden aunt who helps her sister raise a house of little ones when things start to get busy in their quiet neighborhood...
As for the reading, Kowal knocks it out of the park. In fact, this is one where I highly recommend getting the audiobook over the physical book. She brings so much life to the characters in her readings that I'm beginning to seek out anything that she's done the voicework for.
I've read/listened to all of the other Kowal books, and she does something neat with each one: She patterns each one off of a different type of story. One that follows is a heist, while another is a spy novel. This was a deliberate choice on the part of Kowal. She wanted to keep the Regency flair, but also wanted to keep the series lively.
You can get Shades of Milk and Honey on Audible and at most booksellers.