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Of Noble Family
by Mary Robinette Kowal
TOR; $26.99; 561pp
Published: May 2015

I have enjoyed these books so much, though I do admit—Kowal’s first novel “Shades of Milk and Honey” was the weakest as it was a bit too stilted and derivative for me. As Kowal has proceeded with this series however, the writing (as it should) got more assured, more flavorful and distinctive. This last (and fourth) novel in the Regency period “Glamourist Histories” is a fitting, rich end to the series.

Lady Jane and Sir David Vincent have left Vienna and have proceeded to Antigua in the Caribbean to take care of his “deceased” father’s sugarcane estate as Vincent’s oldest brother has died and his second oldest brother was crippled in an accident.

As both Jane and Vincent wanted a change of scenery, traveling to warm exotic Antigua is a welcome diversion. And Jane realizes on their journey to Antigua that she is pregnant. An event fraught with fear for Jane as her previous pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.

Of course, what they discover in Antigua is a tangled mess—a mess so typical of Vincent’s manipulative, vicious father, the Earl of Verbury (who, in a previous novel, was convicted of treason).

The sugar cane plantation, Greycroft, holds many secrets…and eventually (and thankfully), many friends for the Vincents.

Jane and Vincent are appalled by slavery and the circumstances of those that live and work at the plantation. The evil therein is maintained by the plantation overseer, a Mr. Pridmore who is a brutal ignorant sadistic man. A product of his time in thinking anyone not white is lumped right in there with cattle and chickens. A perfect right hand for the Earl of Verbury, who we discover has made a bad recovery from yellow fever and is now confined to a wheeled chair.

So what we have in this novel is not only a look at the mentality of the British to their island holdings, but a look at the resiliency, intelligent and cleverness of the mulatto and African population of Antigua; and how they survive in an untenable situation that is degrading and terrible.

What Jane and Vincent also discover is that Africa has a different approach to dealing with “ether” (magic) and constructing glamour (weaving the ether into magical images). There are even tribal variations. Jane and Vincent are fascinated by the distinctive abilities they learn from the house steward Frank and others working the plantation, especially Nkiruka, Amey and the other ladies in the area. Jane even begins to compile material for a book describing the difference in approach between Africa and Europe in handling ether.

This is a tale of all kinds of revelations regarding the nature of ether, humanity, family and friendship.

There is tons of drama, especially an insanely terrifying scene between Jane and a British surgeon her father-in-law calls in to examine Jane. It was so harrowing I almost yelled “No!” out loud!! Edge-of-the-seat, I’ll tell you. At least for me. There is also plenty of treachery and surprises throughout.

Kowal reveals so much more about Jane and Vincent’s lives and the inner workings of their souls that fleshes out their characters even more. And the new characters we meet here, especially Nkiruka, Frank, Louisa and the practical female Dr. Jones are terrific.

I think I enjoyed this novel the most of the series because the issues here are more compelling than previously (even though they were thwarting Napoleon).

This book brings it all down to a much more graphic and human level.

A very, very satisfying ending to her series. And I really will look forward to new works by Kowal. ~~ Sue Martin

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