Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal

“Mary Robinette Kowal stunned readers with her charming first novel Shades of Milk and Honey, a loving tribute to the works of Jane Austen in a world where magic is an everyday occurrence. This magic comes in the form of glamour, which allows talented users to form practically any illusion they can imagine. Shades debuted to great acclaim and left readers eagerly awaiting its sequel. Glamour in Glass continues following the lives of beloved main characters Jane and Vincent, with a much deeper vein of drama and intrigue.In the tumultuous months after Napoleon abdicates his throne, Jane and Vincent go to Belgium for their honeymoon. While there, the deposed emperor escapes his exile in Elba, throwing the continent into turmoil. With no easy way back to England, Jane and Vincent’s concerns turn from enjoying their honeymoon…to escaping it. Left with no outward salvation, Jane must persevere over her trying personal circumstances and use her glamour to rescue her husband from prison…and hopefully prevent her newly built marriage from getting stranded on the shoals of another country’s war.”

I was a little surprised to see that Kowal used this novel to move her characters outside of England.  Since this series is so deeply influenced by Regency stories and sensibilities, it seems a bit strange to abandon them so quickly.  This does, however, allow the author to contrast Jane’s habitual thought patterns and manners of behavior with those of the Continent.  In Austen’s novels, most of the interpersonal relations are confined to those within one’s social class and definitely limited to British folks, so I like Kowal’s decision to put Jane and Vincent in another country.

The other big difference between this novel and the first one is the emphasis on the technical aspects of glamour.  Whereas the first story described the how-to’s of glamour in general terms, there’s a lot more of the mechanics behind it in the current book.  It’s not so much that the magic itself is explained, but there’s much more about how it interacts with the physical world.  This is shown through the “glamour in glass”, a method by which a piece of blown glass can hold the necessary occlusions for bending magic into an actual glamour.  I’m pretty sure that this will be important down the line, as it bypasses some of the limitations of glamour, such as restrictions on movement.

I was a little put off by Vincent’s attitude towards Jane.  During the course of the novel, a certain distance grows between them, and there is very good reason for that (one that I won’t spoil here).  However, there are times when Vincent is rather mean to Jane, and it seems to be included simply to make Jane more confused and willing to misconstrue his actions.  Vincent is something of a curmudgeon, true, but his random descents into snarkiness were a bit out of character.

That is a small complaint, though, in the midst of what is otherwise an entertaining story.  This period of history isn’t one that I’ve read much about or seen used as the backdrop for novels, so it has a freshness that it might not otherwise have had if the characters had remained in England.  The Austenesque touches still thread through the tale, just like they did in the first book, and they ground the reader back into the era that inspired this story in the first place.  Dinner parties, conventions of dress and manners, and the inclusion of a charming young soldier bring to mind classic novels that have been popular for centuries.

Glamour in Glass combines tales of manner and magic into a seamless whole that benefits from the best of both worlds.  Jane is a down-to-earth heroine who commands the pages with both sense and sensibility.  If you’re a fan of Jane Austen but haven’t read much fantasy, these books might be just what you need to test the waters and find out what fantastic fiction has to offer.

This review was originally posted on April 18, 2012.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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