Back in 2010, I reviewed Mary Robinette Kowal's extraordinary debut novel, Shades of Milk and Honey, a Regency drawing-room novel reimagined as a fantasy novel, where "glamour" — the ability to weave illusions from "folds of aether" — is part of the repertoire of any well-bred young lady.
Now, Kowal returns to her world with a sequel, Glamour in Glass, and outdoes herself in every way — no mean feat, considering the many virtues of her freshman effort. Glamour and Glass opens shortly after the conclusion of Shades, and quickly moves from the close confines of the drawing-room to the open road, as a pair of newlywed glamourists are first feted by the crown prince and then head for a honeymoon in Belgium, where they hope to confer with a French glamourists of their acquaintance. This visit to the Continent is made more exotic by the only-just-recently-ended war against Emperor Napoleon, and will coincide with the celebration of the newly formed United Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Set free of England's shores, Kowal's characters are now able to compare their behavioral norms and rigid self-discipline with other places' sensibilities, and to reflect on the opportunities and restrictions of both. Thus, Kowal is free to explore the value of a constrained, highly circumscribed approach to life, and to really and plausibly inhabit the psyches of the sort of people for whom avoiding offense and spectacle is the highest virtue.
Kowal is deft and subtle, able to capture the drama of a first-rate war novel while maintaining the calm, mannered form of Regency romances.