Two marriageable British sisters search for suitable partners while practicing a benign sort of magic in this surreal Jane Austen update, the first novel from short-story writer Kowal.
Clever and kind, 28-year-old Jane Ellsworth can count painting and music among her many accomplishments, but it is her skill at “glamour” that really sets her apart. Glamour, for Jane and other ladies of her class, is the ability to enhance daily living by conjuring up appealing scents, sounds and images out of thin air. And at Jane’s level, it is an art. Her beautiful younger sister Melody is not as adept, but with a face like hers it hardly matters, as “plain” Jane ruefully acknowledges. Melody’s potential suitors include their wealthy neighbor Mr. Dunkirk, a regular visitor at their estate, and the handsome young officer Captain Livingston, newly returned from the navy. Mr. Dunkirk is also charged with the care of his teenage sister Beth, a lively girl who grows close to Jane while harboring an unhappy secret. Resigning herself to spinsterhood, Jane finds her creative impulses stoked by the arrival of one swarthy Mr. Vincent. An itinerant glamourist contracted by local aristocrat Lady FitzCameron to decorate her manor, Mr. Vincent is gifted and intense, but lacking in social skills. He claims little interest in anything other than his “muse,” although he recognizes a kindred spirit in Jane. After the two collaborate on a stunning tableau vivant, an overworked Mr. Vincent suffers a seizure—a side effect of too-much glamour. Jane’s quick thinking saves his life, but a long recovery complicates their emerging relationship. Meanwhile, silly Melody finds herself in a precarious situation with a certain gentlemen, forcing Jane to use her talents to save Melody’s honor—if it isn’t too late. Kowal’s unique take on an overly familiar plot does hold some potential, but the magic, like her sensible protagonist, comes across as a bit too tame.
Gimmicky but respectful Pride and Prejudice homage.