Author Mary Robinette Kowal’s debut novel, the fantasy Shades of Milk and Honey, was awarded our August 2010 RT Seal of Excellence. Said RT Senior Reviewer Natalie A. Luhrs, “If Jane Austen had written a fantasy novel, Shades of Milk and Honey would have been the result.” Today, the author chats with us about what readers can expect in next April’s series second, and then get spoiled with exclusive details about Kowal’s two novels coming up after that — books three and four in the series!
We are anxiously awaiting the release date of Glamour in Glass, which will continue the romance of Jane and Vincent, who readers met in last year’s Shades of Milk and Honey. We know in the series second Jane and Vincent head abroad, where are some of the spots where they will stop?
They start in London and take a ship across to Calais. From there, they travel by carriage to the small town of Binche in Belgium. Most of the novel takes place in the surrounding area, so we also go to Brussels, Quatre Bras, and the countryside in between.
Other than Vincent and Jane, can readers expect to see any familiar faces from Shades of Milk and Honey in the next story? Do you have a secondary character in mind for either of these stories that you are excited to introduce to readers?
Melody, Mrs. Ellsworth and Mr. Ellsworth spend a little time with Jane and Vincent, but once we arrive on the continent, it is an all new cast, including some historical figures such as The Prince Regent. But I'm really looking forward to introducing readers to M. Chastain, who runs a school for glamourists in Binche. He and Vincent studied together in their youth and is good at drawing Vincent out of his shell.
But it’s your news about the series that really has us over the moon, that we can expect not one but two more titles after Glamour in Glass. Will these two books also follow Jane and Vincent?
Yes, they will. I adore Jane and Vincent and want to spend more time with them.
Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired the titles for books three and four, Without a Summer and Valour and Vanity?
Without a Summer is set in 1816, which was often called "The Year Without a Summer". The previous year an enormous volcanic explosion had pushed so much debris into the air that many parts of the world had extremely bad winters that just didn't stop. In England, there was still snow on the hills in July. So that title's origin is fairly obvious.
Valour and Vanity's title is modeled on Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Like those books, the title also reflects some of the themes that the novel will be exploring.
We have read that you are thinking of book number three as “Emma against the Luddite Uprising set in the Year Without a Summer.” So we have to ask, what are two ways that your “Emma” heroine will differ from Jane Austen’s? What is something that you felt really adamant about keeping the same as the classic?
As in the other books, Jane remains my main character so she differs from the original Emma in many ways. I was doing a reread of Emma and was struck by the idea of Jane as a matchmaker for her sister. Although Melody is not quite as silly as Harriet Smith, she comes very close. The novel will be a little more adventure packed, as the Luddite Uprising aspect might indicate, but at the end of the day we're still looking at a love story.
Can you share two of the details you use to reinforce that the season is not changing?
Sure! I'm actually using the historic weather record for Without a Summer. In 1816, it snowed all day on Easter. This is the start of the social season in London and that's in part because normally spring is well underway. We also get to attend an out-of-season skating party. Snow was on the hills into July and when the snow stopped, it turned to endless and cold rain. As a side note, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in August of 1816, when she and her friends were trying to escape the cold and dreary weather.
We know that for your fourth novel you’ll be creating a crime caper, and it seemed only fitting to ask, can you tell us what your group of criminals will be targeting?
Alas, if I told you that I would spoil much of the fun. I can tell you that Jane and Vincent go to Murano, Italy and that they are set upon by pirates on the way. Everything spins from that moment.
What other information about Without a Summer and Valour and Vanity would you like to share with your readers?
In Shades of Milk and Honey I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to fit Fantasy into a Jane Austen mold. These new books escape that mold and start to explore the rest of the world. At the same time, I continue to refer to Miss Austen and her deep understanding of relationships. Though she focused on the journey to the altar, I think her characters Admiral and Mrs. Croft show that the romance doesn't end with marriage. In Glamour in Glass, Without a Summer, and Valour and Vanity the love story continues, it's just a little more swashbuckling.
By the way, there's a free card game based on the books that you can download from my website. With each new novel, I'll be creating an "expansion pack" of the new characters. Even if you don't play games, you might be interested in seeing paintings of the characters.
While you wait for Glamour in Glass to hit stores, you can take a look at this interview with the author, which takes readers behind the scenes of Shades of Milk and Honey. And for all the latest genre news, be sure to stop by our Everything Science Fiction & Fantasy Page!