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Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal

Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal
Book Name: Of Noble Family
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher(s): Tor Books
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Historical Fantasy
Release Date: April 28, 2015

Of Noble Family is the fifth and final book in the Glamourist Histories series by Mary Robinette Kowal, set in an alternate version of the Regency period with magic in the form of glamour. Readers have shared Jane and Vincent’s lives through various trials and adventures, in a series that explores many different types of plots and ideas – romance, real historical events, family drama, intrigue, magic, even a heist! Now our time with Jane and Vincent is coming to an end, which puts a lot of pressure on this book – readers are going to be sad, but will also be expecting to go out on something special.

At the beginning of this book, Jane and Vincent are enjoying a period of rest and quiet, when Vincent receives word that his father has died. Now the couple are on their way to Antigua to sort out the family estate and the will. However, they arrive to find themselves in a much worse situation than they could ever have expected, and on top of this, Jane is pregnant, the estate is badly managed and in disarray, and they are shocked to find the plantation’s slaves in such terrible conditions.

Jane and Vincent have had to contend with difficult and often dangerous situations before, but this time they are pushed through a great deal of mental strain as they face both the disturbing reality of how the estate is run, and deeply personal troubles of their own. Vincent in particular has to face some of his worst fears, especially those about himself, and his character is really opened up in even more depth in this book.

Despite the multiple problems and dangers Jane and Vincent face in this book, they always stand by each other’s side. It’s wonderful to read about a happy, supportive marriage, which can actually be quite a rare thing in fiction, especially in the fantasy genre. Jane and Vincent’s relationship is realistic – it still has its worries and arguments, but at the same time it is clear in every scene how much they mean to each other, from the way they have learned to understand each other’s feelings and needs from the slightest body language, to their ability to communicate so much love and support through a kind of ‘secret language’ of shared experiences. Their relationship has been my (and I’m sure many other readers’) favourite thing about the series, and it was great to see it portrayed so strongly in this book too.

But this time, the book is not just about Jane and Vincent, though they are still the main characters. Here, other characters play a large part and have a lot at stake too, and Jane and Vincent cannot simply solve the situation on their own. In fact, they are often a little clueless as to what is actually happening, and they don’t always get things right. The slave characters and people of colour in the novel have fully developed characters and stories, with their own strengths and motivations beyond simply complementing Jane and Vincent’s story. Nkiruka, who befriends Jane and discusses glamour with her, was my favourite of the new characters, but I also loved Frank. Mary Robinette Kowal doesn’t shy away from showing the realities of slavery, but neither are the slaves in the story simply victims. And this is all incorporated into the story naturally, so that the reader feels connected to what is happening rather than feeling like they’re reading a history book. There has obviously been a lot of research and care, as well as respect for the subject matter, put into this book.

Where other series sometimes stick with a formula that works and repeat it over several books, the Glamourist Histories series takes risks and tries something a bit different with each new story. In particular, each book explores not only a specific point in history, but also a particular aspect of Regency period life. Where other books set in this historical period can feel like they are set in a kind of romantic bubble, this series always feels grounded in reality. This book is no different, and it is just as interesting and compelling a read as the others. Even the magic feels completely natural and believable, and it’s a joy here to delve a little deeper into the workings of glamour and its differences in different societies.

So, can this live up to the expectations placed on the last book in Jane and Vincent’s story? Yes, and I think it does. It’s a great story, often moving, sometimes painful, serious when it needs to be but also with lighter moments, particularly those focussed on glamour or a tender moment between husband and wife, and it deals with its subject matter with respect. Jane and Vincent’s relationship is the high point, as ever, and the resolution is wonderful. Fans of the series will not be disappointed, but instead, perhaps, will part with that bittersweet feeling that comes with saying a happy goodbye (for now?) to good friends.


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