Friday, April 17, 2015

Book Review - Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamour in Glass

Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: April 10th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Jane and Vincent have become quite the powerful couple. Working side by side they have elevated Vincent's art, their art, to a new level. The Vincents are the toast of London, with the Prince Regent throwing a dinner in their honor in recognition of the magnificent grotto they have created for his opulent New Years festivities. Yet being a woman Jane is confined to societal expectations, and the lack of recognition that goes with it. Even newspapers articles praising the work done for the Prince Regent omit her entirely. Jane doesn't want to be easily pushed aside after dinner when the men sit and talk and the women "retire." Jane has no desire to retire! She wants to be next to Vincent discussing magic and politics and all the things that matter in the world, not shut up in some parlor till the men deign to come to them! These after dinner traditions make her realize more then anything how lucky she is to have found Vincent, who views her as his equal.

The question of how to follow up their success leads them to consider a different path. They have some freedom at the moment and they never did have a honeymoon... With the continent recently open for travel with the exile of Napoleon, Vincent suggests a visit to his fellow glamourist, M. Chastain in Belgium. Not only has M. Chastain created a school for glamourists, but he has created a new technique that Vincent longs to see for himself. To travel with her husband and be surrounded by others able to work their craft and to perhaps learn more than she was able to learn herself is a dream come true to Jane. Though the journey there is not without peril. The continent is not as safe as they had hoped. Troops are rallying for Napoleon and it is rumored that he shall escape Elba and make an attempt on reclaiming his throne.

Being surrounded by glamour is inspirational to Jane and she stumbles upon an idea while playing with M. Chastain's daughter on the steps inside the house. What if you could capture a glamour in glass, thus making it portable? In particular, what if they tried it with Vincent's Sphere Obscurcie, which makes a person invisible, but only in a fixed location. The Vincents don't see this revelation as anything that could be used as a tactical benefit in armed combat, but others do. This discovery could mean defeat or victory at the hands of Napoleon. A discovery the Bonapartists would gladly kill for. Though the return of Napoleon isn't the only hitch that has been thrown into Jane's world. She has discovered she has a condition that will not allow her to work glamour. She is with child. Will Vincent still love her if they are no loner able to work side by side and she where to become a more traditional wife? As she quickly sees, Vincent is already keeping secrets from her and not confiding as much as he used to now that she is no longer with him at all times. Yet, when Vincent is threatened Jane might be the only one able to save him.

The declaration of my adoration of Glamour in Glass that started the first review I wrote of this book almost three years back now hasn't changed. As I return to this series I am even more enamoured of the world these books have created. Each installment in this series just finds me more and more enthralled. Instead of just continuing on the trajectory she created in Shades of Milk and Honey, making more Austenesque books, Mary instead delves deeper into the time creating a richer tapestry then Jane Austen ever did. While the mix of magic and the Regency world was what captured me initially, Mary has added in a level of French history that I am always drawn to, ie, the despotic wacko, Napoleon. How could you not love magic and deceit and Napoleonic spies? Napoleon and his hundred days, sigh. It is literally in my blood to be drawn to his time period. My great great great however many greats needs to be there, relative was a high muckety-muck for Napoleon, François Joseph Lefebvre, the Duc de Danzig. Family legend always had it that he had actually abandoned Napoleon during the hundred days, turns out, that wasn't quite the case... but, well, would you like to say you rallied to him? At least François's portrait is still at Versailles...

But the history is just a richness and plot contrivance that aids the deeper themes of the book; that of love and passion. As Vincent has shown to Jane, the most wonderful, the most true art is seated in our passions. The true artist thrives on their emotions and is driven by them. This passion makes us artists capable of things we didn't even think we could do, and I'm not just saying pulling a week of all-nighters sewing beads on a David Bowie puppet, though I have done that. Glamour in Glass pointedly shows how much our passions are able to push us beyond what we thought we could endure and achieve. Being driven by their passions leads to Jane and Vincent's new discoveries and new techniques, such as literally incising glamour into glass to create a portable invisibility field. But the heart of the matter is in their connection, their passion for each other. Because of this Jane is able to save her husband's life, quite literally. She is driven to create an elaborate and ultimately successful rescue attempt for Vincent all by herself because her ingenuity and drive is powered by her passion.

It is this love and passion that is so achingly perfect. When I think of what true love means, the marriage of true minds, it is the love embodied by Jane and Vincent. Jane is chaffed by the restrictions of her sex, she is a modern and amazingly capable woman who is not of her time. Vincent sees this and loves this in her. They are a modern couple who defy the expectations and mores of the time they live in. Vincent is even willing to buck the Prince Regent so that Jane can partake in after-dinner conversation instead of retiring to her designated seat in the parlor with the other women. They rely on and support each other in a way that makes the heart ache to have something so precious. Their love is so strong that they aren't shoved into the stereotypical romance tropes where the damsel in distress is rescued by the knight on a white steed in shining armor. Their love allows Jane to be the rescuer.

It is this love and passion that is what will last of their legacy. Because what interests me about their chosen art form is it's transient nature. A Glamoural is almost performance art. It is pulled from the ether and will one day return. It is fixed, it cannot move, and is meant to be an adornment that can easily be changed, almost as easy as redecorating. I can't help but think of the three months that Vincent and Jane spent creating the grotto for the Prince Regent's ball. It is a one night spectacle. Created for a single event and then it will be torn asunder. Gone in a flash to be replaced by the next sensation. The thing that always drew me to sculpt and build and paint was that after you were done you had something physically left over. Some tangible proof of your exertions. But then I started doing theatre, and in theatre you build something, you sweat and toil and in the end, after the run, you tear it all down. This was so hard for me to accept. To willingly destroy what you had made because the time limit was done. So while I ponder the inevitability and the end of all things, at least the love of Jane and Vincent lives on in Mary's "Histories". Their love is one for the ages.


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