Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.
I am going to miss Jane and Vincent. Of Noble Family is the married couple’s fifth and final adventure in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist History series set in an alternate Regency Britain enhanced by glamour, the loveliest system of magic I’ve encountered. But while their glamoured displays are often breathtaking, Jane and Vincent have taken ether-based illusions far beyond the ubiquitous drawing room decorations created by accomplished young women. In previous books they’ve found practical, if hair-raising, applications for glamour in the war against Napoleon, the Luddite riots, and an escapade involving pirates on the Mediterranean. For this last story the couple will be off to the Caribbean.
When the book opens, Jane and Vincent have been resting after their harrowing exploits on the Italian Island of Murano and enjoying the company of Jane’s family, especially her sister Melody’s new baby boy, who is already showing a precocious ability to see inside glamoured images. But things don’t stay relaxing for long. Vincent receives a letter from his brother Richard that turns their world upside down.
The first shocking piece of news is that Vincent’s father has died of a stroke at the family estate on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Lord Verbury fled to the island in an earlier book to avoid being imprisoned for treason. Since Vincent was badly abused by his father while growing up, the death wasn’t as upsetting to him as it might be, but the bad news didn’t end there. Upon their father’s death, Vincent’s oldest brother Garland inherited the title Lord Verbury, bought himself a new barouche-landau, and then died when the vehicle overturned on the badly maintained road leading to Lyme Regis. Vincent’s middle brother, Richard, was severely injured in the accident, losing one of his feet. In his letter Richard asks Vincent for a very large favor.
Apparently their father’s most recent will is in Antigua, and it will only be released to one of the sons. Richard’s injuries make it impossible for him to travel right now, so he’s asking Vincent to make the journey and straighten out any problems on the estate that need attention. Jane is completely against it. Why should Vincent go? She’s seen how poisonous anything to do with his father is for Vincent, and Vincent has already disassociated himself from his family by changing his last name.
But Richard has always been kind to Vincent and was just as badly treated by their father himself. Plus, being professional glamourists Jane and Vincent have no possibility of work in Britain for the time being anyway. Beloved Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV, recently died in childbirth so the country is in mourning for a year and all glamour has been stripped from homes and public places. For these reasons, Vincent decides to help Richard by traveling to Antigua, and Jane of course goes with him, but nothing turns out as they expected. The boat journey across the Atlantic is much more difficult than any water trip they’ve made before, and once they reach the island they discover they’ve been lied to as shocking family secrets begin to come to light.
Of Noble Family is a heart-racingly superb conclusion to the series and includes all the charms I’ve come to expect from Kowal. I love that the books don't shy away from charged historical issues--here Jane and Vincent are confronting slavery, and grappling with their own prejudices and well-meaning but sometimes short sighted feelings about it--and I love that the stories aren’t set only generally during the Regency period--all the stories take place at specific times, this one during the mourning period for Princess Charlotte.
It continues to be a pleasure to see what happens after an Austen-like happy ending marriage. Jane and Vincent have a strong relationship but it’s not effortlessly wonderful and they have to work at it. Also, Of Noble Family is a richer story than it might have been in other hands because Jane and Vincent aren’t its only heroes. The enslaved characters practice their own forms of glamour, and act with agency, resource, and intelligence.
My only complaint is the one you’d expect--I wish there was going to be another book. But Kowal wraps everything up in a moving and satisfying way, and there is at least one more thing to look forward to. Kowal always narrates the audio versions of her books, but since Of Noble Family has characters with Caribbean accents this time she has the help of two other readers. I’ve listened to a sample and it’s wonderful, especially Prentice Onayemi’s deep, Mr. Darcy-like interpretation of Vincent’s voice. I’m going to enjoy revisiting the story in audio form.
I read an advanced review copy of this book provided to me at no cost by the publisher. Review opinions are mine. Originally posted on the Austenprose website.