Canaan is England!
Lo! Pax Britannia!
The obvious comparison here is to Jane Austen, which leads me to a bit of a confession. Since I went to college for Forensic Anthropology, instead of something like English, I missed "The Canon." I've never read things like Wuthering Heights or Pride & Predjudice or Jane Eyre. I did however read the more modern comparison-- Jonathon Strange & Mister Norrell-- & I find it apt. I haven't read the classics I probably ought to have, but I can tell you that this reads like I imagine them to be like. Shades of Milk & Honey is ostensibly a fantasy novel, though viewed in a certain light it is much more a romance, or a historical novel, or magical realism-- & I think that its charm is the difficulty in pegging it down. Don't be fooled by the Tor mountain on the spine-- this is not a novel of blue glowing swords clashing in an epic conflict. No, this isn't Dungeons & Dragons but rather Drawing Rooms & Debutantes. It is a novel of courtship by calling card, a discourse on the nature of Art, a slow social dance with just a dash of glamour. A mystery of mistaken lovers & family disgraces set amidst (literal) illusions & deceptions. That is the strength of the narrative-- it is a small story, a personal story that takes place between neighbors. You won't be surprised by any of the twists, & if you keep looking for a big reveal, you won't find one-- the reader's jaded modern senses & sensibilities (see what I did there?) unravel the plot before the more dignified characters of the story do. Our hero is Miss Jane Ellsworth, & the author Mary Robinette Kowal manages to pull of the careful teeter-totter such a character requires. A female character set during the height of patriarchy, constrained by social obligations & manners, but self-determined, strong. Without giving into anarchronism, or portraying an iconoclast who defies convention, Robinette Kowal manages to keep the scales level-- Miss Elssworth isn't suddenly given to modern notions of feminism; but there is little doubt to her intellegence & will. Her lot in life is difficult-- as a woman, as a plain woman, & as a talented woman-- but we are given her without apology, without allowances made for our expectations. There is no cheating. She is a "proper lady" operating entirely in her historical context, & a thoroughly compelling character because of it.