Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal

I’m not gonna lie – after this week’s episode of Game of Thrones, I was so mad at the shoddy writing that in order to get to sleep, I needed to read something that I knew was going to be good, something I knew I would enjoy. Perhaps something more rooted in reality than GoT, but still fantasy, and with more and better female characters, but still with a good amount of action. I knew that the next installment of the Glamourist Histories series by Mary Robinette Kowal would not let me down. And it sure as hell didn’t.

This book follows the now-married life of Jane and Vincent, two remarkably talented glamourists. The book splits time between their domestic life, their work as artists, and the impending threat of invasion by the dreaded Napoleon. Indeed, Glamour in Glass sees the pair visiting the continent, Belgium specifically, just before Napoleon’s invasion after escaping his exile in Elba. Now, I’ll be straight with you – the Napoleonic wars are an era of history where my knowledge is lacking. And they’re never really addressed in Austen’s work – the ever-present soldiers (many of them dashing scoundrels who serve as antagonists) are a feature, and their tours on the continent are mentioned, but I don’t know that more information than that is ever really given.

I didn’t think it was possible that I would enjoy this book more than the first installment in the series. And then I did. It deals with a lot of themes that weren’t present in Shades of Milk and Honey that are my personal weak points in fiction – women who are passionate about practicing their craft; women being respected in their fields of expertise; domestic issues like marriage troubles and trusting your partner and miscarriage that are dealt with both frankly and sensitively, and from a woman’s perspective. In this regard, I found it very much similar to Marie Brennan’s Lady Isabella Trent Memoirs, in the best possible way – I very much love both series, and I think fans of one would enjoy the other.

Issues like failing marriages (or at least the dreadful fear that your marriage is failing), dealing with the loss of a child, the fear of inadequacy in your relationship – I don’t want to say that these things don’t exist in fantasy novels; they certainly do. But more often than not, they’re presented from a male point of view, whether it’s the author or the POV character or both. Especially with the first two issues, I am far, far more interested in a woman’s POV, and this book provides it. Jane is, at times, so intensely relatable that it hurts. There’s a point in the book where she becomes unable to weave glamours anymore, and there’s a bit that reads, “but – and this was where Jane nearly came undone – but she had nothing else to set her apart. … Her doubt in her own merits, the utter disbelief that any man could find her of interest, came back with full force.” Um. Same.

I love Jane’s dedication and perseverance with regards to glamour, even though she spends much of the book unable to continue using it (and when she finally does, it’s with tragic consequences). In this, she is both a scientist and an artist, in many ways. The use of glamour is primarily for decoration and amusement – she and Vincent weave the most elaborate, convincing, realistic glamours (including a beautiful scene of a dining room made to look like an underwater palace). But in their work to discover new methods, to clarify and improve their procedures, to understand the limits of possibility, both Jane and Vincent are truly scientific. I love this balance of sensibilities, and the different views of their discipline.

And of course, in a very real sense, this is a romance. It’s heavily inspired by Austen, so why shouldn’t it be? The relationship and love between Jane and Vincent has clearly developed with time (although only a few months have passed since the first book), although it is not the storybook perfect romance. They deal with several mundane issues – how will they raise their children? Do they even want children? How can they manage both being married and working very closely together? – and all of these issues are dealt with in the most beautifully unrealistic way I can imagine. They talk about them. They talk about them at length, maturely, and frequently. God, it’s a beautiful thing.

Now, I’d mentioned the action in the intro, something that Austen’s novels tend to lack and that Kowal’s do not. Where the first book includes a dramatic horseback shootout, this one includes Jane staging a daring and improbable rescue of her husband from where he is being beaten and held captive (man, fuck Napoleon). It’s fantastic. I love Jane. She’s a great protagonist – she retains many of the good qualities of the stately Regency era lady, while also being an excellent illusionist and extremely badass husband-rescuer.

Overall, this is a really great follow-up to an already-great first book. I’m hoping that the whole series shapes up to be this good, and I’m thinking it will. Also I’m really jealous that I didn’t have this idea first, to be honest.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.