5 x 5 – MARY ROBINETTE KOWAL & the Five Books That Inspired Her

January 14, 2013 Five by Five, General, Guest Post 27




Welcome to a special Five by Five post!  

Mary Robinette Kowal was unable to participate in the original Five by Five Week but was very generous in visiting the blog today to share with us five books that have been influential for her as a writer and a reader.  


Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories was made for me.  As a diehard Jane Austen fan, Kowal’s mixture of Regency England and fantastical magic just called to me.  And I boy was I glad I answered that call.  After finishing her first book in the series, SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY, I was hooked on Jane Ellsworth, the brilliant heroine of the novel, and her brooding artist, Vincent.  The magic, romance, and mystery of the story set a fantastic tone for the start of the series thereby cementing Kowal as one of my favorite authors.  The follow-up, GLAMOUR IN GLASS, didn’t disappoint.  The character development, further understanding of the system of glamour, tense intrigue and adventure, and, finally, heartbreak had me clamoring for the next book only to find it wasn’t set to release until April 2013.  If you’re a Jane Austen fan but wish Anne Elliot could weave some magic, then pick up this series and enjoy.  Get sucked into the imaginative world of the Glamourist Histories and you won’t be disappointed. 

Please welcome one of my favorite authors, Mary Robinette Kowal, to the blog!


Mary Robinette Kowal & The Five Books That Inspired Her


1.  Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

For me, this was a formative book. I hit it at exactly the right time in high school and the idea of grokking someone, of having an inner circle of friends that understood you and loved you because of your flaws, was very empowering.




2.  Persuasion by Jane Austen

Of all of Miss Austen’s works, this is my favorite. It is a book about  second chances and standing firmly by one’s convictions. I love how quiet the story is and how intimate it is. Her use of the small detail taught me more about horror and suspense than anything else. Also, I weep every single time I read the Captain Wentworth’s letter. In fact, in the first draft Shades of Milk and Honey Jane’s last name was Wentworth.




3.  Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay

I love how he manages to write stories that are sweeping and epic yet remains focused on the personal narrative. It also sucked me into the idea of historical fantasies, although he files the serial numbers off the history. This is a book I return to repeatedly and it makes me cry every time.



4.  The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars by Steven Brust

Again, a formative book for me. I read this in college when I was an art major. The main character was also an art major and going through the process of creating a painting. Mr. Brust captures the creative process so perfectly that I tend to reread this when I’m feeling blocked. My favorite sentence is: “Painting consists of long periods of minutes, followed by short busts of hours.” Yes. And writing is exactly like that, too.



5.  An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

Part of why I was attracted to this over her other books is that the main character’s name was Mary, though she went by Polly. What I really liked about it was Polly’s self reliance and not in a Save The World kind of way, but in the way she could make a difference doing small kindnesses. There’s a point in the book where she’s feeling sorry for herself and decides to do something nice for someone else. Sure enough, even in the real world, that turns out to be the best way for me to get out of a funk. Plus, Miss Alcott is so good at characterization.




It is difficult to think of a book that would be a favorite of both Jane and Vincent. She enjoys fiction while he tends to prefer non-fiction. There is one book which holds a special spot for them both as it is the first one that they read aloud to each other. The Corsair by Lord Byron. Byron was a contemporary of Vincent and they ran in the same circles. He sent a copy of The Corsair, published in 1814, to Jane and Vincent as a wedding gift and they took turns reading it to each other. Jane, in particular, found elements which reminded her of Vincent. 

Sun-burnt his cheek—his forehead high and pale,—
The sable curls in wild profusion veil;
And oft perforce his rising lip reveals
The haughtier thought it curbs, but scarce conceals.
Though smooth his voice, and calm his general mien,
Still seems there something he would not have seen: 
His features’ deepening lines and varying hue
At times attracted, yet perplexed the view,
As if within that murkiness of mind
Work’d feelings fearful, and yet undefined;
Such might it be—that none could truly tell—
Too close enquiry his stern glance would quell.

On the other hand, if you were to ask Vincent, he would probably say that it was Herr Scholes’s “Treatise on the reciprocation of light and shadow,” but he would be making a joke with Jane. They sometimes refer to studying that work on glamour as a euphemism for their marital duties.




WITHOUT A SUMMER, the third book in the Glamourist Histories, releases April 3, 2013.  If you’re a fan of Regency England, fantasy, and strong heroines, you really must read this series. 



5 x 5 Giveaway – Mary Robinette Kowal


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About the Author

Mary Robinette Kowal was the 2008 recipient of the Campbell Award for Best New Writer and her short story “For Want of a Nail” won the 2011 Hugo. Her stories have appeared in Strange HorizonsAsimov’s, and several Year’s Best anthologies. She is the author of Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass (Tor 2012).

Mary, a professional puppeteer and voice actor, has performed for LazyTown (CBS), the Center for Puppetry Arts, Jim Henson Pictures and founded Other Hand Productions. Her designs have garnered two UNIMA-USA Citations of Excellence, the highest award an American puppeteer can achieve. She also records fiction for authors such as Kage BakerCory Doctorow and John Scalzi.

Mary lives in Chicago with her husband Rob and over a dozen manual typewriters.


Please visit MARY at her favorite spots:


27 Responses to “5 x 5 – MARY ROBINETTE KOWAL & the Five Books That Inspired Her”

  1. Ian Gazzotti

    I’d choose A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay, and Shades of milk and honey

  2. nrlymrtl

    I love your list. I own and have read all but the Jane Austen. Guy Kay is one of my all time fave authors. Steven Brust is great too. Did you know he did an album of pirate music? Yes, he is that cool.

  3. Readsalot81

    I’d choose An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott. I absolutely adored Shades of Milk and Honey.. such a great book 🙂

  4. Sam Dailey

    I would love to read more by Guy Gavriel Kay so Song for Arbonne would be great.

  5. Kalisa

    I love being able to see the books that have had great influence in an author’s life. I would pick Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein and Shades of Milk and Honey for my books!

  6. Opal

    I did a squee! of excitement when I saw Mary Robinette Kowal did a 5×5! Yay!

    I’d choose A Song for Arbonne.

  7. Sara

    I love Mary Kowal. I’m so excited to see two of my favorite books and a third book by another author I love on her list! I haven’t read The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars or An Old Fashioned Girl yet.

    • Jess S.

      Interesting book choices. I’ve read a few Guy Gavriel Kay books, so A Song for Arbonne is now on my TBR list. I loved Persuasion, but couldn’t stand A Stranger in a Strange Land.

  8. Sophia Rose

    I love Persuasion and I would gladly re-read it. In fact, its my favorite all time book. I had no idea Mary’s stories were based on this.
    Thank you for the giveaway opportunity

  9. Melanie

    I’d love to read the sun, the Moon, and the Stars – fascinated by the creative process.
    Thank you !

  10. Ruby

    I’d choose An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott! I have a very, very old copy of it that I got from my mom. I read it when I was a kid, but the version is too fragile for me to read now. I’d love to have another copy that I could read and reread over and over again.

  11. Jayla | Ladybluejay

    I am upset this giveaway is over but I would LOVE to win a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land. It sounds really good. And the Glamourist Histories sounds like a series I could get into.

  12. fishgirl182 @ nite lite

    i’ve been meaning to start this series for awhile now. must remember to pick it up soon.

    and i love persuasion, too. one of my fave austen books. i love the idea of lovers being reunited after a long period of time.

    thanks for the interview, lee!