Valour and Vanity (Kindle here) is the fourth of Mary Robinette Kowal’s Regency England histories that follow the couple Vincent and Jane, and their families. I have not yet read the three books before this, but that did not keep me from enjoying Valour and Vanity tremendously, and it should not stop you from picking up any book from this series either.
The Regency era is Jane Austen’s England. The Prince Regent, who is the son of Mad King George (remember him from learning about the revolution, my American friends?), is a big proponent of excess and art, and Jane and Vincent work as his glamourists. Glamour is basically magic that creates illusions by manipulating light and sound.
And that becomes Vincent and Jane’s trade in this novel: not glamour, but illusion.
When the couple heads to Murano to find a glassmaker, they are waylaid by pirates. And that is the least alarming thing that happens to them on this trip. They end up swindled by those they thought were friends and can’t leave Murano until they pay back what they owe.
It seems so simple right? If you lose your money on vacation, you go back to your hotel and call the bank, or your mom, or the American Embassy, if things really go wrong. But Jane and Vincent don’t have telephones or airplanes or online banking. Penniless, and with no practical skills save for glamour, they are left with nothing but each other. Well, that and Jane’s wedding ring, which they pawn for cash.
We never have quests any more. When is the last time you had to go somewhere to find something or bring it back or travel to create something you need or fulfil your destiny? We don’t even have to go to the mall at Christmas time, you can just order everything online. Our problem solving these days is very different from what Jane and Vincent face.
But what they go through is familiar. I’ve been poor and struggling to pay the rent. I’ve bought something fancy and small as a treat just to beat myself up about the extra $5 it cost. I haven’t been able to find a job and have lied about how great I’m doing in the meantime. And I’ve fought with loved ones and tried to hide the painful truth. And I’ve turned to something drastic to get back on my feet again.
When Vincent gets to the edge of what he can take, the couple gets a lucky break. (As so often happens in life, as well.) Their lucky break allows them to make a plan to take back what was stolen from them. Using every glamourist trick they know, plus new tricks in the physical realm, they embark on their dangerous plan–with the help of some new friends.
This heist is more fun than any I’ve ever been a part of (which, ok, is actually none in real life), and it includes feisty nuns. So while Jane and Vincent’s plan may go wrong, those reading about it can’t lose.
I loved this story and I love Jane and Vincent. I’ve been known to roll my eyes at romance every now and again, but I could read about this couple forever. Neither of them is perfect, and they fight and struggle like everyone else. Romance isn’t nonstop perfection or the absence of conflict. That is exhausting and impossible. But their love seems true–true to life and true to each other.
Hopefully next week I’ll have some sketches inspired by the book. There were some lovely images, and I can’t really pass up the idea of decorating an apartment with magic.
I choose this book on my own and was not paid to write about it, but the links are affiliate.