This is Book Four in the Glamourist Histories series and the series keeps getting better and better with each book!
Before we go any further I want to tell you that this review is so biased that I’d prefer you think of it as a commentary on the book rather than a review, although I am giving it a grade. I’ve met Mary Robinette Kowal and she was very gracious and gave me a wonderful interview (you can read both Part I and Part II), and I’m a beta reader (one of many) for her next book. I know lots of nice authors whose work doesn’t float my boat this much, so I don’t think my high opinion of Valour and Vanity is solely due to bias, but yeah, I do have some.
The Glamourist Histories is about an alternate version of Regency England with just a smidgen of magic. Skilled practitioners can cast illusions (glamour). They lack many practical applications due to various limits under which the illusions can be cast and maintained. One of the fun things about the series is watching Jane and Vincent, the main characters, develop more and more interesting uses for glamour. The previous books in the series are Shades of Milk and Honey (the most straightforward romance of the lot), Glamour and Glass (intrigue and action) (Carrie's grade: B+) and Without a Summer (very loosely based on Emma, plus politics).
This brings us to Valour and Vanity, in which Jane and Vincent find themselves involved in a con game in Venice, Italy. In her interview with me, Mary described the plot as “Jane Austen writes Ocean’s Eleven”. Lord Byron is in it, and so are pirates – if that doesn’t make you rush out to your local bookstore, assuming you still have one, then I dunno what will.
I loved Valour and Vanity, and I want to talk about the marriage in V&V and how it’s grown since Jane and Vincent’s first tentative flirtations in Shades of Milk and Honey. I’ll just say quickly that the use of language remains superb, as does the sense of place. I have to admit that I was so wrapped up in the character development that I barely even noticed the plot. There was one, and it seemed clever, but it was never the focus of my attention.
Here’s what was the focus of my attention: the dynamic between Jane and Vincent. I don’t want to give anything away so I’m going to try not to reveal the specifics of what Jane and Vincent have to deal with, but I can tell you some things they do in the course of the book in terms of relationship. They have an honest conversation about children including whether Jane wants children at all and how they would manage work and parenting. They experience times when Vincent is protecting Jane and times when Jane is supporting Vincent, and they deal with Vincent’s complicated feelings about this. They have a realistic fight and they make up. They build up resentment and then realize that building up resentment is unwise – after they have their fight, which I thought was the best, most realistic scene in the book, they feel much better. They trust each other in life or death situations. They are adults.
Most romance books take us as far as the HEA but they don’t describe the work of maintaining an HEA. Vincent and Jane have real flaws as individuals and real struggles as a couple but we never doubt that they will work things out. Of all the books in this series so far, this one is my favorite, because I love this stage of Jane and Vincent’s relationship. I think you could probably follow along just fine if you started with Valour and Vanity but I encourage readers to try this whole series. There’s nothing more delightful than watching a beloved couple grow up!
Also, did I mention that Lord Byron is in it? Naked? And that there are pirates, a sword cane, and a dragon made of glamour? Now that I'm done swooning about Jane and Vincent I want to re-read the book to catch all the fine points of the intrigue – and wanting to re-read a book immediately is high praise from me!