REVIEW SUMMARY:: Tying together the themes and ideas of the series, a pitch perfect execution to the end of Jane and Vincent’s story.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS:The Fifth and final novel of the Glamourist Histories has Vincent and Jane confront Vincent’s past, and the couple’s future, in his family’s estate in the West Indies
PROS: Strong endgame for the series and an excellent use of events from previous novels. Vincent and Jane continue to grow and glow as characters.
CONS: Novel is diminished in impact if you haven’t read the previous volumes.
BOTTOM LINE: A wonderful capstone to the Glamourist Histories.
Jane and Vincent have had a number of adventures since they have met. Since their meeting and courtship, they have tangled with the forces of Napoleon, dealt with the Year Without a Summer, and had a rather eventful trip to the city of Venice. Now they are looking for some peace and quiet in Vienna. However, the news that not only Vincent’s estranged father and his elder brother have died, has sent Vincent in a tailspin. The request of Vincent’s remaining brother, now the new Earl of Verbury, to see to the Earldom’s estate in the West Indies, is not one that Vincent can easily disregard.
However, the trip to the West Indies proves that adventures are not done with Vincent and Jane. A visit to the estate shows that things are far from what they seem or expected. The couple have to grapple, first hand, with the consequences of the institution of slavery. Jane becomes pregnant, and given her previous one, this only increases the tension on the couple as they find that simply can’t run away from the numerous problems besetting them, and those around them. Once again, they have to take a stand, face their fears and what opposes them, but at what cost to themselves?
Of Noble Family completes Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories series.
Jane and Vincent are the heart of the series’ previous novels, and they are the heart of Of Noble Family again. At this point, readers have seen them meet and marry, deal with family problems on both sides, struggles and challenges in their own marriage, and seen them caught up in some dark and dangerous events. Having the couple, separately and together, face the legacy of Vincent’s father, and the legacy and problems of slavery, is powerful story matter that continues to evolve the characters and show facets of them in new ways, inviting them to grow and change, yet again.
Even as the author brings events and characters forward, she continues to innovate in her worldbuilding, especially in regards to Glamour. Again, just as the industrial revolution in the Western World going on was a time of immense technological development and invention, the exploration of the uses of Glamour that Jane and Vincent have engaged in continues here. And just as in previous novels, and even more poignantly given the very different social terrain here, Jane and Vincent together learn and grow and collaborate on ideas and innovations with the fellow Glamourists they meet, especially among the slave population. The author doesn’t hesitate in engaging in the thorny social issues in such collaborations and borrowings, either, and does so in a nuanced and interesting way.
As usual, the writing, from description to dialogue, is a pleasure to read. The novel continues the Austenian style and shows that the author has mastered and transcended the form. The “Jane Austen with magic” tagline is often applied glibly, but the writer uses that to its advantage, and the writer’s own well tuned ear for conversation and for describing things, and illuminating action have only gotten cleaner and even more lucid since Shades of Milk and Honey.
Speaking of which, the novel is impossible to fully appreciate without having read the previous novels. Although the author does do a great job of keeping readers from being completely lost, the references, allusions and callbacks of the novel really don’t work, I think, without the context of having experienced them as a reader. For example, Jane’s pregnancy and her worries about it really has the full emotional punch for a reader only if they’ve already gone through the emotional high and low of her previous one. Other events in the novels, and in some ways the entire frame of the novel, really does depend on previous knowledge and experience of Jane and Vincent’s life. More minor easter eggs for longtime readers are to be found, too, including a character from a science fiction franchise who has appeared in the Glamourist Histories before.
In the end, though, author sticks the landing in this final novel, in spades. A series that in some ways seems to have come along unexpectedly has now come to a fine and fit ending. The author’s skill, talents and ability have only grown since Shades of Milk and Honey, and yet, as the novel itself hearkens back to that first novel, the voice of the characters and the evocation of the world remain as consistent and interesting as ever. In a metafictional sense, I consider Jane and Vincent fast and true book friends (I’ve even sent them a postcard during a Letter of the Month). Thus, the fact that their stories are now at an end is a bittersweet one. It’s hard for me to see how the writer could have improved on their final outing in Of Noble Family. Bravo.