Glamour in Glass – Mary Robinette Kowal
When a few months ago I read the first volume in this series – Shades of Milk and Honey – I was pleasantly surprised: different from any kind of fantasy I ever sampled, it was both entertaining and compelling, taking me to a background that was quite familiar through my former experiences with Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, but at the same time completely new thanks to the element of glamour, or magic that creates detailed illusions. Part of what made Shades such a fascinating read was its lightness: I am using the term in the most complimentary meaning, of course, because the story itself needed no epic drama to keep me reading at a fast pace, so that I started this second installment with eager anticipation.
But either the novelty had worn off somehow, or the pace was a bit slower than in the previous book, so that at first I had to struggle a little to overcome my sense of disappointment with Glamour in Glass: I wondered if the bliss of married life had not dulled the main characters, especially that of Jane, the protagonist – or if the author had lost that special sparkle that had kept my attention riveted. Luckily for me, after a somewhat shaky beginning, the novel found its rhythm and a surer footing, and I could sit back and enjoy my return to this peculiar version of the Regency era.
On hindsight I think that what irked me most was Jane’s self-effacing deferral to her husband, the constant stress on her shortcomings and refusal to acknowledge her own abilities despite her husband’s attempts at convincing her of the contrary: yes, I understand that women back then were raised that way, that any sense of self-worth had to come second to that of the “man of the house” and that Ms. Kowal was being true to the period’s customs, but still it was as if the Jane I had know in the first book had somehow… faded in the interim. She was not an aggressive character to start with, granted, but she could tap a reservoir of inner strength and courage every time her loved ones were threatened in any way, therefore I longed to see that person again.
Of course, I should have trusted the author’s plans: because it soon became clear that such insistence on glamour itself, and its huge importance in Jane’s life, would take a pivotal role. More importantly, Ms. Kowal wanted to show how the loss of it could affect Jane and her self-image: since she had been described from the very start as plain, any sense of worth she had came from her exceptional use of glamour – it was, after all, what had caught the brooding Vincent’s attention in the previous book and led to their falling in love and marrying. Having Jane lose what she perceived as her only attribute of note due to her pregnancy forced her to rely only on herself: the use of glamour can be harmful to a pregnant woman, so Jane had to deal with the loss of her only outstanding quality (according to her point of view) and the fears and sense of inadequacy that came with it.
This, coupled with the more far-ranging events leading to Napoleon’s flight from the exile at Elba and his attempt at reclaiming power, forced Jane to face harrowing experiences on the strength of her wits and courage alone – and she showed the reader (and hopefully herself!) that her skills with glamour were not what made her what she was, and that she could be much more than just a magic wielder. It was a return to the determined Jane I used to know, and one whose resolve came back with a vengeance because of the huge stakes involved: I found a marked poignancy in her actions, not just because she was getting out of her comfort zone to defend all she held dear, but mostly because she did it out of determination born of love – not simple romantic love, but the feeling that comes with the need to protect those we care about.
Moreover, I appreciated how this accomplishment was not reached without paying a steep price and the fact that I suspected early on what would happen, did not detract in any way from the dramatic developments and the pall of sadness settling on the happy ending. It felt more honest, and true, if it makes any sense.
It will be more than interesting to see how Jane’s character will evolve in the next books and how her new-found awareness will come into play – hopefully things will never be the same for her. One thing is certain, however: Ms. Kowal is one author I will always watch out for.
My Rating: 7/10