TITLE: Glamour in Glass
AUTHOR: Mary Robinette Kowal
PUBLISHER: Tor Books
PUBLICATION DATE: April 10, 2012
ARC received courtesy of publisher.
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.
“There are few things in this world that can at once delight and dismay to the same extent as a formal dinner party.”
– The opening sentence from Glamour in Glass, which was mysteriously omitted from the book’s first printing.
When I first read Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey, I fell in love with her Austen-inspired writing style, characters, and world. She successfully combined all the elements I love about Jane Austen’s work, and added an original twist – in Kowal’s Regency England, magic, or glamour, is an accepted part of life. The fantastical elements of this world are what make it so special, and at the end of Shades of Milk and Honey, I looked forward to seeing how Kowal would expand this world and further develop her compelling heroine, Miss Jane Ellsworth. Having just finished its follow-up, Glamour in Glass, I am happy to say that I was not disappointed. Kowal succeeded again in drawing the reader into her enchanting world of glamour while also upping the ante with a bit of political intrigue, a dash of daring escape, and a handful of heartfelt drama.
It’s difficult to discuss the plot and the events of the book without giving away too much. Essentially, Jane and Vincent travel to Belgium for their honeymoon but things are not what they seem. Their honeymoon gets caught up in the political turmoil of the time as Napoleon escapes from Elba Island and makes his way across the continent to restore his power and influence. Meanwhile, Jane and Vincent continue to develop their work together as glamourists while staying with an old friend of Vincent’s, The Chastains. Their domestic happiness collides with political events and results in intrigue and adventure. The plot builds a bit slowly but has a difficult yet exciting conclusion.
What I liked most about this book was the character development. Jane is now a wife, but she is also a creative partner to her husband in a world in which women are not valued for their professional pursuits. Jane is an accomplished glamourist and works with Vincent on a prestigious, awe-inspiring project for the Prince Regent as an equal partner, yet as a woman, she receives very little of the acclaim. Jane doesn’t do the work for vanity but feels the sting of not being recognized for her abilities. She also struggles with the expectations placed on her as a wife and as a woman and tries to reconcile those expectations with her own desire to perfect her art. I appreciated this struggle and loved seeing Jane grow from being a somewhat sheltered woman at her parent’s home in the first book, to an independent woman trying to define herself personally and professionally. It is a great modern twist to Jane’s character and it makes her very relatable to women today.
We also learn more about Vincent. Revelations about his troubled past give us a deeper understanding of his character. You feel for him and hope that his life with Jane can give him the happiness he did not have with his own family.
With these two together, Kowal does a great job of showing the complexities of a marriage. Difficult pasts and uncertain futures set in tumultuous times make for great drama.
The Austen-esque writing style is also well done. Even when hinting at a love scene, I think Kowal hits the right Austen note:
“They were occupied for some minutes, then, with duties marital. To disturb their privacy would be indecorous. Suffice to say: the Vincents were a healthy couple, and with their differences settled, they were happily matched in temperament.”
Can’t you imagine Austen writing something similar? This passage made me smile.
Finally, I love the magic in this world. It is an art form. It is used to create beauty, to transform rooms into underwater kingdoms, to enhance the beauty of a home, or to elevate a piece of music. But this magic also takes a physical toll. Wielding too much glamour can also be dangerous to one’s health. I appreciate the originality in this concept. I love that the possibilities are endless but that they come with a price.
The ending of Glamour in Glass is devastating but leaves you with a sense of hope. I think this is a great series for Austen fans who also love a bit of fantasy. The language, the world, the voice, the style and pacing are all terrific homages to Austen while also managing to be wholly original through the story’s fantastical elements. Once again, I can’t wait to see what’s next for Jane and Vincent.
Let’s get to reading!