I'm going to type that again, because it really does bear repeating.
This is what a book crush is all about, this finding of a volume that is your perfect fit, the book you've been waiting for without ever knowing that you were waiting for it. This is one of those books that, upon finishing the last page, left me closing it, breathing a deep dreamy sigh, and floating off to bed on clouds of joy and wonder. And I'm afraid there is no way that I can explain to you why I'm so overjoyed to have found this book and why I occasionally have to clasp it to my bosom and twirl about the room in happiness. But I'll try.
I loved the book Sorcery and Cecelia: Or, the Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, and so I was looking forward to a book for adult readers that combined a Regency sensibility with magic. Little did I know that Ms. Kowal would so exceed my expectations and write one of those rare books that I wanted to forget I had read so that I could have the joy of reading it for the first time all over again.
Shades of Milk and Honey has all the conventions one expects from Regency novels: the plain/sensible/smart heroine; the beautiful/flighty/emotional sister; the unrequited love interest, whose eye wanders elsewhere; the overly-dramatic mother who takes to her rooms at the slightest upset; the detached but loving father; the best friend with romantic woes; and the unexpected True Love hiding in plain sight, behind a wall of emotional coolness. To all of this, Ms. Kowal has added a layer of magic. But, it's a thin layer, almost like a veneer that simply enhances the picture already painted. And it's a subtle magic, used for simple household tasks and for beautifying one's domicile and enhancing entertainments. It is, quite simply, women's magic. It is, in Ms. Kowal's world, one of the feminine arts like embroidery or playing the pianoforte.
Whereas the magic in Sorcery and Cecelia is central to the plot and leads to danger and adventure, in Shades of Milk and Honey the magic is important, but only as one more accomplishment with which a young lady may snare a husband. The magic is not what Ms. Kowal's book is about. This is a novel about love — family love and love of self and True Love — and finding it in spite of yourself.
And, as in life, it always helps if you believe in the power of your own magic.