The basic gist of this book is Jane Austen with magic, which pretty much sold me, and it's been on my TBR since its 2010 release. In the meantime, I've loaded up on Kowal's short fiction, which I love, and have been gobbling up her writing advice via her fab writing craft podcast, Writing Excuses.
Sadly, all that time waiting lead me to an anticipation that this novel just couldn't meet. It's a fluffy fun Austen homage, breezy and brisk, but felt too short and a little too thin for my tastes.
There's a mishmash of Austen elements in this novel, from Pride and Prejudice to Emma, and it's a very fun to see what threads Kowal includes. Our heroine, Jane Ellsworth is not pretty, but gifted in the arts and skills of a proper woman, including working glamour -- magic. Her sister Melody is pretty. Their mother is a hysterical hypochondriac. Jane fancies their neighbor, Mr Dunkirk, and charms his younger sister -- who seems to be having a fling with someone she shouldn't. The moody and broody Mr. Vincent, gifted glamourist, finds offense in everything Jane does. In the end, Jane behaves as no Austen heroine would (hooray!) and is justly rewarded.
The use of magic here is very mundane -- decorative elements, some cosmetic -- and at times I forgot I was reading a fantasy, it felt so natural. Fantasy can be very hit or miss for me, but I liked the light touches and especially enjoyed the societal implications of magic -- a domestic art, to be sure, but ultimately the grand works and admiration go to the rare men who make it their craft. Still, I wanted more: more about the characters, more about glamour, more about Jane's world. (Although the hardcover is 300 pages, I swear the formatting is what gave it that page count -- this read so quickly!)
There are five books set in this world, following Jane, and I'm already on the third one.(The second book reads entirely different from this one -- less Austen-y and more ambigu-Regency, which is fine by me.)
I feel like this review is damning with faint praise, and perhaps it is. If this were a standalone, I would probably be unhappier than I am, but the remaining four books make me feel a little forgiving -- I can still try to gobble up the details I'm hungering for. Other readers may not feel so kind!