fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsValour and Vanity by Mary Robinette KowalValour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal

Valour and Vanity is the fourth book in Mary Robinette Kowal’s series THE GLAMOURISTS. This time our husband-and-wife team of heroes, David Vincent and Lady Jane Vincent, are stranded, penniless, in Murano, victims of a predatory swindler who hopes to sell their secret glamour process to the highest bidder. To stop this from happening, Vincent and Jane must out-swindle the swindler. Yes, that’s right; set during the British Regency, this book is a caper book.

So, hmmm… Do I write a conventional review, or just give you a list of some of the things you will encounter in the book? Well, here’s the list, in no particular order.

  • Pirates
  • Puppets
  • Puppeteers
  • Glamourized lions from ancient Rome
  • Venice
  • Murano glass-blowing studios
  • Lord Byron
  • Lord Byron naked in a canal
  • Costumes
  • Disguises
  • Tarot card references
  • Busking
  • Smart, feisty nuns

If none of that interests you, let me add one more thing; the core of this story is still the relationship between Vincent and Jane. In this case, they are marooned penniless in a strange city and Vincent is injured (he got a concussion fighting off the pirates who raided their ship). Jane finds work at a convent and is supporting them temporarily, and Vincent is struggling with his sense of worthlessness. He fears that he has fulfilled the prophecy his brutal, bitter father made; that as a glamourist, he will end up starving on the streets. Kowal has an acute ear for the arguments of married people who love each other. This is perfectly demonstrated in the argument that starts over a cake of lavender soap. Yes, the book is light-hearted escapist fantasy, but that passage could be taught in college English classes. Seriously.

And if that doesn’t pique your interest, then I have to say the caper itself is golden; a delight of double-crosses, double-agents and setbacks. Glass-blowing, and the history of Murano, is fascinating and Kowal uses what was really happening in Murano during this time period to add suspense and interest to the book.

I think I liked Valour and Vanity the best of this series. I do have a couple of nits; the original scam that ensnares Jane and Vincent had to be set up much earlier than we first realize; one more paragraph about how that was accomplished would have helped me. It seems like a large element is left to chance at the very beginning of the book. I also thought things slowed down a bit too much when they first get to Murano — but then the story unfolds and takes wing. If you’ve enjoyed any of the GLAMOURIST books, grab this one. Pour yourself a lemonade, pick up your hand-fan and prepare to be delighted.

Shades of Milk & Honey — (2010-2015) Publisher: Shades of Milk and Honey is exactly what we could expect from Jane Austen if she had been a fantasy writer: Pride and Prejudice meets Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It is an intimate portrait of a woman, Jane, and her quest for love in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. Jane and her sister Melody vie for the attentions of eligible men, and while Jane’s skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face. When Jane realizes that one of Melody’s suitors is set on taking advantage of her sister for the sake of her dowry, she pushes her skills to the limit of what her body can withstand in order to set things right — and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsMary Robinette Kowal Shades of Milk & Honey 2. Glamour in Glassfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsValour and Vanityfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.

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