7 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal

Title: Glamour in Glass

Author: Mary Robinette Kowal

Genre: Fantasy, Alternate History

Publisher: Tor
Publication Date: April 2012
Hardcover: 336 Pages

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

Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Shades of Milk and Honey series

How did I get this book: ARC from the publisher

Why did I read this book: I enjoyed the first book in this series, Shades of Milk and Honey, so was very excited to see that a second book was finally coming. I was especially interested to see how book 2 would stand on its own, out of the shadow of emulating Jane Austen and the heroine’s path to marriage, as Jane and Vincent are now a happily united couple.


Jane Vincent née Ellsworth has thwarted the threat to her immediate family, has saved her younger sister Melody’s prospects, improved her own skill at creating and manipulating glamours, and has landed the love of her life with Sir David Vincent as her loving (if gruff) husband. Wedded bliss, however, is short-lived when Jane and Vincent are called away to Brussels to consult on new glamour techniques from one of Vincent’s old colleagues. The Continent – particularly anywhere near France – is in a volatile position, as an exiled Napoleon stirs and plots to break free of his prison on Elba. With spies and traitors aplenty, Jane and her new husband must be wary of their every move – especially when Jane has a theoretical breakthrough that could change everything the world knows of glamour and its practical applications, through recordings in glass.

There’s also the troublesome matter of Vincent, who seems to be keeping secrets from his wife and pulling away from her as political tensions mount. Somehow, these different threads are all related, and Jane must untangle the truth if she is to save her husband and herself from a terrible fate.

The second book in what I hope is at least a trilogy, I was not sure what to expect when I began Glamour in Glass. While I enjoyed the first book, in a purely frothy escapist way, I was not sure exactly how the series would progress from the ending of the first novel – Jane and Vincent marry, and live happily ever after, right? Add to this the significant problems with Shades of Milk and Honey, the largest of which rested in the fact that most any attempt to mimic Jane Austen yields poor results – and in the first novel, Ms. Kowal’s allusions to Austen’s most famous novels (Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, and Emma) are overt and cannot help but pale in comparison to their source material. I also had issues with the characters and overall romantic plot, as Jane is a heroine that left me wanting – she was shades of Anne Elliot, Elinor Dashwood, and Elizabeth Bennet, but not nearly as compelling as any of these iconic heroines. Too, Jane’s love interest Sir Vincent lacked real definition as a character and I felt no emotional investment in their romance. With marriage, however, this could change, and I looked to Glamour in Glass with a hopeful and open mind.

And you know what, readers? I have to say, I’m glad I stuck with the series. Glamour in Glass is a far better book than Shades of Milk and Honey, and moves the story from beneath the long shadow of Jane Austen and transitions the story to something much more original – and, more importantly, memorable.

First and foremost, I absolutely love the vision of magic – that is, glamour – in this book. We were introduced to the magical system of glamour, in which users manipulating folds of reality and twisting them to create illusions, in Shades of Milk and Honey. While this system is tantalizing in book 1, however, it never really gets center stage treatment, feeling more like a minor backdrop to the story’s focus on Jane, her sister Melody, and the burgeoning love interests. In Glamour in Glass, I was thrilled to see glamour taking a front seat and playing an integral part of the story, driving more of the plot and the action. We learn much more about the different techniques and folds of glamour in this second book, as well as see the thought process behind creating different glamours and practical applications of magic beyond the superficial aesthetics that characterized so much of its use in this version of British aristocracy. Naturally, if one could use magic to render oneself invisible, this has incredible military applications – and it’s something that the French Napoleon loyalist forces seize on to help shape the course of the war. Then, there’s the titular “glamour in glass” – which I won’t spoil, but holds a special, key place in the story.

Beyond the strength of the magical system, which I loved, the characters also grow and become more defined in this second novel. Heroine Jane, while still timid and lacking in self-confidence, finally manages to extricate herself from the heroines to which she was purportedly paying homage, and becomes a full-fledged and developed character in her own right. There’s less of a focus on Jane’s preoccupation with her sallow skin and overlong nose, and more of a focus on Jane’s abilities and her relationship with her husband. On that note, Jane’s husband Vincent also becomes less of a stock caricature and more fleshed-out with honest motivations that make sense. While I still don’t buy the romantic plot that brought these two characters together, the bond between husband and wife is executed well, and I liked the layered, at times tense connection between the newlyweds as they struggle to understand one another and their burgeoning relationship. Perhaps the most interesting thread is this question of Jane’s role and subconscious feelings of inferiority to her husband, as Vincent is the world-renowned glamourist and Jane his oft-overlooked sidekick (since she is *just* a woman, after all). I love that Ms. Kowal explores these feelings, and the question of agency and the role of females throughout Glamour in Glass – for example, though glamour is considered a “female art”, it’s interesting that the most famous and wealthy glamourists are all men. I also love that Jane questions the status quo but in a way that fits a woman of her station and during this particular time period; the use of contrast between the women of the ton in London, versus those women in France is a nicely executed juxtaposition. Finally, Jane places so much of her self-worth and reasons that Vincent only fell in love with her because of her skill with glamour – what happens when that ability is stripped away? This question, and others, are explored in Glamour in Glass, which is awesome.

On the downside, while escapist and fun, Glamour in Glass still lacks that necessary *oomph* that elevates a novel from good to great. I love the dual threads of evolution of magical theory in this book and the political developments involving Napoleon and his escape from Elba, the actual story proper takes too long to get going. The conflicts imposed by these threats is also slow to build and buried under much conversation between characters and inner-monologuing that does not amount to anything significant that propels the story forward – in short, there’s a lot of talking without purpose or objective. And, on a tangential but I think important note, I was disappointed to see that Jane’s family plays such a small role in this book (particularly sister Melody), when it was such a focal point of the first novel.

Criticisms said, the strengths of character, the strong magical system, and the overall story are enough to make Glamour in Glass a much more memorable read than Shades of Milk and Honey, and clearly Mary Robinette Kowal is an author of great potential. I eagerly await her next novel, to see if that much-desired oomph factor will come to fruition.

Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:

There are few things in this world that can simultaneously delight and dismay in the same manner as a formal dinner party. Finding oneself a guest of honour only increases the presentiment of anxiety, should one be disposed to such feelings. Jane Vincent could not help but feel some measure of alarm upon hearing her name called by the Prince Regent, for though she fully expected to be escorted into dinner by someone other than her husband, she had not expected to accompany His Royal Highness and to be seated at his right hand. Though this was but an intimate dinner party of eighteen, by the order of precedence her place should be at the rear of the line. Yet one could hardly express such doubts to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, Regent of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Faerie, and Ireland.

The only title Jane could claim on her own was that of Mrs. David Vincent, and her entire claim for being invited at all lay in her marriage to the Prince Regent’s favourite glamourist. As they exited Carlton House through a tented hall, Jane felt all the eyes of those assembled fall upon her, and under their gaze the unequal nature of her station magnified. The dove silk which had seemed so fine when she had commissioned it last summer now seemed dingy by comparison to gowns such as Lady Hertford’s rich claret velvet, which had long sleeves slashed to allow glimpses of a cloth of silver. Her mother had wanted to buy her a new gown, but Jane had resisted. She was an artisan now, and had no intention of pretending to be part of the fashionable set … and yet, being escorted by the Prince Regent made that choice seem less easy now.

But all that worry fell away upon entering the Polygon Ballroom, which glittered and dripped with diaphanous folds of glamour hung to create the illusion of a water folly filled with mermaids and sea-horses. She and Vincent had laboured for the past three months on the spectacle and they could justly be proud of the effect, though she would have to retouch the anemones when she had a chance. The colour was off when compared to the palette of this winter’s fashions.

The Prince Regent stopped with her on the threshold of the temporary structure and inhaled with pleasure.

They had taken the Polygon Ballroom, designed by Mr. John Nash for the fête honouring the defeat of Napoleon, and transformed it for the coming New Year’s Eve celebration by refashioning it into the home of a sea king. Elaborate swathes of glamour masked the walls so that they appeared to be in the midst of a coral palace with views onto an under-sea world. Past the casements of the illusory walls, brilliant tropical fish schooled in waves of shimmering colour. Light seemed to filter down through clear blue water to lay dappled on the smooth white tablecloths.

The Prince Regent smiled and patted her hand where it lay on the dark blue cloth of his sleeve. “My dear Mrs. Vincent. I have long been an admirer of your husband’s work, but you have led him to new heights of glory.”

“You honour me, far more than I think I deserve.”

You can read the full excerpt online HERE.

**EDIT: Apparently, the first line of Ms. Kowal’s novel has gone missing! The excerpt above has been modified with the corrected first line that somehow was cut out of the final printing. You can read more about the mysterious case of the missing first line HERE.**

Additional Thoughts: Mary Robinette Kowal is moving from Portland to Chicago and to promote Glamour in Glass she has created an interesting version of a tour. The drive from Portland to Chicago will take about four days, and Mary and her husband plan to stop in a major city each night. She’s put their route on her website, with directions for her fans who live along the route to contact their local bookseller if they’d like her to stop and personalize books!

Interested? Make sure to check out Mary Robinette Kowal’s website HERE, and follow her progress via Google Maps HERE.

Rating: 7 – Very Good

Reading Next: Glimmer by Phoebe Kitanidis

Buy the Book:

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  • AnimeJune
    April 10, 2012 at 5:52 am

    That’s really interesting! I was a little underwhelmed by the critical response to the first book, which was why I avoided it.

    But I am kind of a sucker for magic inserted into nontraditional historical settings (as in POST-MIDDLE AGES) – His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik is a personal favourite, because I loved how the hero, raised and defined by his status as a ‘gentleman,’ has to rethink what that means when he’s part of the dragon force of the military.

  • Jackie Kessler
    April 10, 2012 at 7:03 am

    FYI: The first sentence of the novel was left out. Here’s Mary’s blog about it:


    So…here is the correct opening to the book:

    “There are few things in this world that can simultaneously delight and dismay in the same manner as a formal dinner party.”

    It would be terrific and hugely appreciated if you could mention this in the review — Mary is doing everything she can to make sure readers know. She’s even made digital bookmarks available that have the opening sentence, and she will handwrite the opening sentence into people’s books when they come to her signings.


  • mostamazing
    April 10, 2012 at 8:27 am

    i like your post very much.keep it on.
    most amazing place

  • C.D.
    April 10, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Oooh, I’m really pleased to see such a good review! I’ve been looking forwards to this one!
    I read the first book because people kept telling me it was “Jane Austen with magic.” And I love Jane Austen. And I love Magic. I think enjoyed Shades of Milk and Honey more overall than you did, but I agree – I wasn’t quite sure the book had transcended the “Jane Austen with magic” label. Which is why I’m excited about Glamour in Glass, since it moves beyond the Austen’s marriage plots.
    On a side note, Kowal writes really amazing science fiction – she’s only published novellas and short stories (I think), but I’m crossing my fingers that e get a novel soon. Her SF is so different from her Shades of Milk and Honey work that for a long time, I didn’t realize they were both written by the same author.

  • Cecelia
    April 14, 2012 at 11:11 am

    I fell head-over-heels in love with the first book, and I have been waiting until I had a little bit of time to re-read the first one before starting this one. I’m glad to see that you enjoyed it.

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