I discovered fantasy as a genre when I read the Hobbit as a thirteen year old – the sense of adventure carried me away. But truth be told, if the whole of the novel had taken place in Bilbo’s Hobbit-hole, I would have been just as happy. As much as I loved the fantasy and adventure that Tolkien evoked, I enjoyed the sense of place that he provided.
Before that fateful book, I had been dedicated to classics (for both children and adults) such as Anne of Green Gables, the Scarlet Letter, and Treasure Island. Classics provided me a strong sense of place and characterization. I wanted to be Anne – I longed for red hair – and lamented my own brunette strands. I suppose my longing for her hair is an irony considering how much Anne hated it, but I wanted to be so much like her I didn’t care.
Prince Edward Island is as much of a fairytale place to me as the Shire or Middle Earth.
And as much as I loved the books that transported me to the past, after reading the Hobbit I was inspired to seek out more fantasy and more adventure. I went on to read the Lord of the Rings through the rest of middle school and early high school. Then I moved on to other fantasy authors, such as David Eddings and Mercedes Lackey.
However, I still longed for the novels that transported me to the past like a great classic can. I discovered Jane Austen quite by accident in 2005, when a friend and I went to see the version of Pride & Prejudice where Keira Knightley played Elizabeth Bennet. And no matter how you feel about Keira Knightley as an actress, that movie made me curious about the novel. What I loved about the movie was the way the music swept me into a time and place that I could not otherwise go.
What enticed me to pick the novel up was a review of the movie that described the movie ending as over-romantic and sentimental. I wanted to see how Austen envisioned the ending. So, with the movie in mind, I picked up the novel and fell in love with classics all over again.
More specifically, I fell in love with Jane Austen as a writer. I adored her sense of wit and irony. I loved her subtleties. Finally, I enjoyed what were essentially “happily ever after” endings.
In the interim years, I enjoyed my passions of fantasy and Jane Austen separately until I discovered a sub-genre of fantasy that married my two passions into a single entity. I read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, The Magician & Mrs. Quent, and A Natural History of Dragons. These books brought my two favorite types of stories together.
However, what cemented my love of the fantasy of manners genre was Shades of Milk & Honey. This world brings together the social constraints of Jane Austen, with incredible world-building and the sort of magic that makes me fall in love with fantasy all over again. Mary Robinette Kowal’s imagining of glamour as a woman’s art constrains what the magic can do and how it is used. However, even with the plotline of a young woman trying to find a man to marry, Kowal brings a sense of adventure. There is a fantastical edge to the world that promises to ask questions beyond the parlor. A perfect marriage of genres, if you ask me.
What is your favorite fantasy of manners novel?