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Bun's Books

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All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation
Rebecca Traister
Shades of Milk and Honey - Mary Robinette Kowal

I'm sorry but this just drove me nuts. I’m kind of at a loss for what other people saw in it. Again and again I found myself channeling Diego Montoya, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” Some examples:

Both of my girls are too sensible for such nonsense.""Yes. We are sensible girls. ...And so we should have no trouble in using our sensibility to convince you of the importance of new gowns..." No. Sensibility is not the ability to be sensible. It is the ability to be sensiTIVE, and open to emotional and aesthetic experience. Anyone embarking upon an Austen pastiche should KNOW that!! Dammit Janet!!!!!!

Buffington expects me to sit in on the next round of rubber
Again, no. Rubber is not a kind of game. Rubber means the best of three rounds. You could play a rubber of any card game but you would never say a round of rubber. I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

a quicksilver of unease flourished through Jane's joints Um. That phrase is just wrong. Its clunky and awkward and makes no sense. If quicksilver is serving as a noun here, well the noun quicksilver means mercury and if she has mercury flourishing in her joints you might want to get her to a doctor. If, as seems more likely, quicksilver is supposed to be an adjective, then what is it describing please? It seems to me there’s a word missing from this sentence. Perhaps a quicksilver feeling of unease flourished (honestly, flourished?) or a quicksilver frisson, or a quicksilver tremor or something but as this sentence stands its just goofy, and I’m sorry but when vague random things start flourishing in people’s joints I’m just...ugh.

Rendered in far greater detail than Mr Vincent had employed in the scenery for his shadow-play, Jane could still sense his hand in the graceful line of the trunks. Please! Get control of your referents! As this sentence stands it says that JANE was rendered in greater detail than the scenery. Well I should hope so, being as how she's a person and not a backdrop.

There is page after page after page of this stuff. Gack. Just... gack. Is it too much to ask for Austen pastiche to at least aspire to prose that is not actively painful to read? Austen’s prose was lithe, elegant, balanced, lovely. If you are going to imitate her at least make a better effort than this nonsense.

As much as the style made me nuts, the content made me more nuts. I mean come on. The two sisters at the center of the story spend most of their time backstabbing and one upping each other in hot pursuit of available men by all means necessary. They lie, cheat and steal, I’m not just spouting a cliché, they actually do all of those things. They eavesdrop, they tell tales on each other. They act like two first graders squabbling over a toy. The novelist keeps telling me these are loving sisters, but that’s not what she shows me. What she shows me is pettiness and endless rationalizations for pettiness.

The protagonist discovers that the man she’s been pursuing for most of the novel has done something horribly immoral and it does not appear to give her one moment of pause . But when she gets a better offer she drops him at once. She makes promises to other characters and then breaks them as soon as they become difficult. She always has a reason for failing to live up to her commitments, she’s full of self justifications, but I would trust her about as far as I could throw a Buick.

Plus some of this stuff is just absurd. At one point the main character passes out and lies outside on the ground overnight. !! She then hops up, apparently exhibiting no ill effects except a slight headache and some messy hair, and goes home where no one questions the fact that she’s been MISSING for twelve hours. Then, without changing her clothes or swallowing a cup of tea, she goes racing off (with her father’s blessing forsooth!) first, on foot, then in a carriage, and then on horseback in some strange eighteenth century equivalent of a car chase in order to prevent a duel.

By the way, duels are conducted according to a set of rules, none of which are even acknowledged in the “duel” portrayed here, let alone followed. Which makes what happens not a duel, but a roadside assault. But again, none of the characters even questions that for a moment.

Again and again and again the period details are just wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong. The specifics, names, manners, words, games, rules of precedence and behavior, choices, are nails on a blackboard wrong much of the time. But more than that, the people are just wrong. These are not people of the eighteenth century, they don’t exhibit the beliefs or the world view of people of the eighteenth century. These are people who would be much more at home on Jerry Springer, pretending, not very convincingly, to be from the eighteenth.

I really am at a loss here. Is this supposed to be some sort of Flashman-like comedy? You know, where the joke is in the divide between the morals and manners professed and the morals and manners expressed? If so, throw me a hint, throw me a bone.

Because honestly what I’m reading here is a somewhat cheesy romance novel dressed up with some vague historical and magical set dressing which is in no way integral or important to the story. Don't even get me started on the magical set dressing. The whole business of manipulating glamour could be instantly replaced by painting watercolors or playing the piano without changing the story in any way. Which makes the magic nothing more than a decoration, which means this is not actually a fantasy novel. Nor is it a regency novel. It’s a contemporary romance in a Halloween costume.