Short works

Books : reviews

Mary Robinette Kowal.
The Spare Man.
Solaris. 2022

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 12 July 2023

Tesla Crane, a brilliant inventor, and an heiress, is on her honeymoon on an interplanetary space liner, cruising between the Moon and Mars. She’s traveling incognito and is reveling in her anonymity. Then, someone is murdered and the festering chowderheads who run security have the audacity to arrest her spouse.

Armed with banter, martinis and her small service dog, Tesla is determined to solve the crime so that the newlyweds can get back to canoodling and keep the real killer from striking again.

Tesla and Shal are on their honeymoon, on a cruise liner to Mars, with their dog Gimlet, when another passenger is murdered, and Shal is arrested by ship security. Tesla has to solve the murder, so that she and Shal can continue their honeymoon in peace.

This is a murder mystery homage to The Thin Man: we have a glittering couple, a small dog, and a closed-space-ship puzzle. It is useful that Tesla is both fabulously wealthy and a tech wizard, and that Shal is a retired detective. But they don’t have it easy: ship security seem to want to find a quick solution rather than the real killer, and Tesla has some rather serious issues from her past to overcome. But there’s plenty of banter, copious martini drinking, and lots of cute dog antics. They mystery itself is also well-integrated with the science-fictional setting, and pleasantly complex. The ending suggests that Nick and Nora – sorry, Shal and Tesla – might have more mysteries to solve in their future. Great froth.

Mary Robinette Kowal.
Shades of Milk and Honey.
Corsair. 2010

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 26 April 2014

In Regency England, Jane Ellsworthy of Dorchester is a woman ahead of her time.

Not only is Jane highly accomplished in the manipulation of glamour – plucking strands from the Ether to create genteel magical illusions – she is also ambitious for her art, and dreams of being recognised as a serious glamourist of note in her own right, as men are permitted to.

First and foremost, however, a lady of quality must marry well, and alas Jane’s ambitions do not extend to her romantic prospects. Compared to her beautiful sister Melody, Jane feels invisible to suitors, and is resigned to a life of spinsterhood.

But when her beloved family comes under threat, Jane uses her magical skills to put things right, which attracts the attention of the renowned professional glamourist Mr Vincent... and she unwittingly wanders into a love story of her own.

Ugly duckling Jane finds it hard not to be jealous of her beautiful younger sister Melody. But Jane has accomplishments of her own, not least her use of glamour. But it is not until she meets a professional glamourist, the mysterious Mr Vincent, that she begins to realise the full extent of her skills.

This is written in the style of a “Regency Romance”, in an alternate Regency with magic. I found it pleasant, but a little rushed: people seem to change too quickly. I also wanted to see more of the workings of the glamour, but the plot gets in the way. However, it is an interesting alternate universe, so I may stray back there.

Mary Robinette Kowal.
Glamour in Glass.
Corsair. 2011

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 1 June 2014

Jane and David Vincent, both glamourists of some repute, are enjoying a blissful honeymoon on the continent when their romantic getaway goes horribly awry.

They are in Belgium when they learn that Napoleon Bonaparte, the deposed emperor, has fled from exile throwing Europe into turmoil. Suddenly Jane and David find themselves in great danger, with no easy way back home to England, no possibility of rescue from abroad, and no real way to tell friend from foe.

When David is taken prisoner, Jane determines to put herself at risk, using her strongest, most cunning magic to save her beloved, herself, and their unborn child from harm…

Jane and Vincent are now married, and working as glamourists together. After a successful commission for the Prince Regent, they travel to the continent for a late honeymoon. There Jane learns about European manners, and they discover how to trap a glamour in glass. But then Napoleon re-enters France, and they find their lives in danger.

Like the first book, this starts slowly, with a lot of sightseeing-style story-telling. But once the action starts, it is quite frenetic, particularly as Jane tries to get Vincent to take her seriously. She is left to save the day, and I must admit I was surprised at the ending.