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Of Noble Family (2015)

Of Noble Family (2015)
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4.2 of 5 Votes: 1
ISBN
0765378361 (ISBN13: 9780765378361)
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English
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tor books
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Of Noble Family (2015)
Of Noble Family (2015)

About book: *Special Content only on my blog, Strange and Random Happenstance during Regency Magic (March & April 2015)After their ordeals in Italy, Jane and Vincent are enjoying their time in Vienna. They are catching up with Vincent's old mentor, Herr Scholes, as well as enjoying becoming acquainted with Jane's new nephew, Tom, who is the pride and joy of the combined Vincent, Ellsworth and O'Brien families. But the Vincents don't know where they will go next after Vienna. The death of Princess Charlotte has plunged England into a yearlong state of mourning, therefore glamourists are without commissions. A shocking letter from Vincent's older brother Richard might give their immediate future purpose. Vincent's hateful father has finally died on his West Indian plantation Greycroft after fleeing England and charges of treason. But even more shocking is the death of Lord Verbury's son and heir, Garland. Garland was killed in a carriage accident that also crippled Richard, the new Lord Verbury. Richard calls on Vincent's compassion, though he knows their family doesn't deserve the consideration, to go to Antigua and settle the estate for him.Vincent has only started to heal from the abuse handed out by his father because of Jane's love. To travel to Antigua might undo all the good she has done for him. But Jane has a sneaking suspicion that until Vincent sees his father in his grave he will never be truly at rest. They decide to travel to Antigua and see what fate has in store for them. Fate is a cruel mistress. Richard wouldn't have sent Vincent to the West Indies if he had known the truth of things. Lies, betrayal, hatred, manipulation, in other words, a typical Hamilton family get-together is in store for the happy couple, who foresee another addition to their family in the near future. Though to get back to England and the happy arrival of their child they might just have to walk through hell without knowing who their allies are.This series, which started out as an homage to Austen with a magical bent has, over the past five years, evolved into a series that, despite it's fantastical alternate history, captures the complexity of the world better then Austen ever did. Each volume helped to create this ever expanding world view that touched on everything from warfare to basic human rights, with a pirate or two thrown in. While Jane Austen's novels are classics that defy comparison, there is something about the cloistered world that they reside in that gives you a very focused and therefore skewed view of the world. While yes, her drawing room dramas can be seen as a microcosm of the world at large, anything beyond the pale, from duels to fallen women to what exactly Sir Thomas Bertram was up to in Antigua are glossed over with just a line because it wouldn't be proper to dwell on them. Modern interpretations of Austen have tried to flesh out these omissions, what with Harold Pinter's portrayal of Sir Thomas Bertram as a reprehensible plantation owner in the unwatchable 1999 adaptation of Mansfield Park, but they leave something to be desired.Mary has built a far better basis for the discussion of race and slavery then Austen ever intended in her books. As someone I was close to said about the aforementioned adaptation of Mansfield Park, it helped if you didn't view it as Austen. That is the key. To get to these new conversations, to approach the world at large you have to think beyond Austen, evolve into something more. Mary has made that something more in this series. With Of Noble Family she is continuing the race discussion that was begun with the coldmongers in Without a Summer and single-handedly blasting away the whitewashing of this time period. All too often we see the world as we want to see it and are scared of tackling the big issues. Sad to say, I don't think I'd ever pick up a book that dealt slavery in Antigua and the running of plantations in the early 1800s. It's not in my wheelhouse. But by taking characters I love and putting them as the voice of reason in this sadly all too common situation my knowledge expanded and my empathetic nature was touched. With Jane and Vincent's arrival in Antigua the whole series feels as if it has moved drastically forward in time, though I don't believe more then three years has elapsed chronologically for them. Charlotte Bronte, despite always dissing Jane Austen, is the natural evolution of female writing in the 19th century. We go from a constricted world with true yet not as emotional love to a world with Mr. Rochester. Think about it, he brings the passion, the fire (quite literally), and the loose morals. He is a man of the world while Jane Eyre is more out of Austen. Of Noble Family is rightly permeated with this more modern Jane Eyre vibe, even more so if you've read Wide Sargasso Sea. The one month journey across the sea has literally opened up a whole new world for Jane and Vincent and because of this we can have all these new conversations. We can talk about race and servant versus slave. I've loved this series from the beginning, but this volume goes out with a bang at almost double the length but without feeling burdened by it's more divisive topics. What appealed to me as an artist is this idea of different ways for glamour to be looked at and taught. Jane has a very strict view of the proper way to do her art. She was taught in the greatest European traditions. But I love that through Nkiruka she learns that black Africans, in particular Igbo, have an entirely different way of creating glamour. I adore Nkiruka and that she's always admonishing Jane because Jane is constrained by what a certain glamour is called. Jane's knowledge of glamour comes from borrowing heavily on words and phrases derived from textile and weaving. But this is a hindrance. As Nkiruka points out, by naming something after something else you are limiting what you are able to do. This literally just blew my mind. There was an opening up in me and I was reminded of that quote "what would attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?" Working within constraints is often the bane of artists. Jane is giving herself impositions without even knowing she's doing it. With Nkiruka we have someone who has had a harsh life and doesn't have as much to lose and therefore she has been able to accomplish more in her art, to do things that those traditionally trained would think inconceivable. Combining the craft of Nkiruka and exploration of race within Of Noble Family, there's a line that Mrs. Pridemore says that hits directly on something that you still see in the art world; and that is artists of color are viewed more as "folk art" then as just artists. While yes, there is a folk art tradition, how would you feel if all the art you made was labelled as such? Black artists are continually fighting an uphill battle to be taken seriously and not classified by their cultural history. We might like to blind ourselves to the world around us, to cocoon ourselves in an Austen drawing room, but seriously, look around yourself. This book might have been written about a time when slavery was still the norm, but it's not like race relations are doing that well at the moment. We need to have books like this that are able to connect and resonant with us on an emotional level with our love of the characters but are also able to open up our minds and start conversations. Start the healing.And healing is needed for many things; for pain and emotional turmoil can happen to anyone, slave or not. Just look to Vincent. With his family and his past coming to the fore he is dealing with reopening his wounds so that they can finally heal properly. If you think about it the fight for freedom, the fight against slavery, the fight against family, all of it is about finding your place in the world. Finding a place to call home where you are safe and cherished and loved. Vincent fights great demons in this book, it is at times hard to read of his suffering, as hard as it is to read of the whippings, but it's all about moving forward. Vincent has always felt awkward around Jane's family because she grew up in a world of love. With the birth of their child he now has a place in that family, as well as a larger family found through strife and turmoil. The world would be a better place if everyone could find this solace somewhere. For me it is in the pages of this book.

As always, the author delivers a solid story, continuing the tale of Jane and Vincent, a loving married couple, a few years after Napoleon’s defeat. Both are talented artist-glamourists, but the British Empire is in mourning for the death of a princess, and glamour, as a frivolous art, is not performed. Perforce, Jane and Vincent enjoy their much-needed vacation in Europe. For the explanations of glamour, a magic art of illusion, and the protagonists’ previous (mis)adventures, I refer you to the novels 1 through 4 in the series. All the books are stand-alone, but the pleasure of reading them is greatly enhanced if one reads them in the right sequence.In this novel, #5 in the series, Vincent receives a letter from his brother that their father died recently on his plantation in Antigua. The estate is in disarray, the brother is ill, and he asks Vincent to go and sort out the particulars. Vincent’s relationship with his father, an authoritarian, narrow-minded, and manipulative man who didn’t brook any opposition, was always filled with hatred and rebellion, until Vincent completely disassociated himself from the family and even took on a different name for himself. Now, he is an independent man and he doesn’t owe anything to any member of his family. He doesn’t have to go to Antigua, there is nothing for him there, but the brother’s plea for help affects him nonetheless. Jane thinks they should go, especially because, due to the empire-wide mourning, they don’t have any commissions to create glamour. In the end, they go.Unfortunately, when they arrive to the West Indies, the situation proves completely different from what they expected and much harder to sort out. Everything they believed as true turns out to be a lie. The prevalent theme of the book is slavery, a painful topic from any angle. The author doesn’t pull her punches either. For me, this was the hardest book of the entire series. Too much cruelty and suffering, inherent in the slavery system, surrounds our heroes on all sides, and only their mutual love helps them to endure. Jane and Vincent’s love and support for each other permeate all five novels of the series. Their love defines them. It is charming and immense, but to tell the truth, it seems a little over the top. Call me jaded, but I’ve never encountered such all-abiding love in real life, even in the most successful, happily married couples. Everywhere I turn, the relationship between men and women, husbands and wives is strained, at least to some degree. At worst, it resembles an open warfare of the divorce variety. At best, it seems a diplomatic state of truce, a constant balancing of give and take. Nobody loves her or his life partner with such a complete willingness to sacrifice her/his own well-being on the altar of the partner’s happiness. I’ve never encountered such people. Only in fiction, and that is rare as well. Am I just unhappy? Too cynical? Am I surrounded by bad families? I don’t know, but my doubts of Jane and Vincent’s all-consuming love spoiled the effect of the book for me. The world building in this novel is superb, and unlike the love aspect, very realistic, but it’s that very realism that made me uneasy. I’m not a fan of history, especially its most brutal facets, and slavery is definitely one of those. I prefer less intense storytelling, but that doesn’t diminish the book’s power. It’s just my personal opinion.Overall, it’s a strong story, told by a talented writer. It reads fast and leaves a lasting impression. That I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous books of the series reflects my personal preferences more that the book’s quality. Definitely worth a read.
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Reviews
Sunil
After several magical adventures in Europe, accomplished glamourists Jane and Vincent are ready for some downtime, but then Vincent receives some unexpected news: his father has passed away, and his brother needs him to take care of the estate.Come out to Antigua, they said. You'll sign a few papers and go home, they said.Things turns out to be much more complicated than that. Vincent's relationship with his abusive father has always been fraught, and soon after arriving in Antigua, he finds himself struggling with his own character, the proximity to his father—even in death—distressing him greatly. Jane is sick on the voyage over and needs some time to recover. And both of these abolition-loving Europeans find themselves quite taken aback by the deplorable treatment of the slaves on the Hamilton plantation.I've heard Mary Robinette Kowal speak about the research she did on this book many times, and the great care she took in her portrayal of people of color, and it shows. The black characters are named, developed characters, and they're diverse in origin (coming from different parts of Africa) and skin color. There is, of course, a danger that the story could fall into a White Saviour narrative, with Jane and Vincent, kindly white people, coming in and freeing all the slaves, but while there is a superficial element of it in the fact that they do confront the monstrous overseer, Mr. Pridmore, a few times, the slaves themselves have some agency and make their own choices when they can. They explain when they do and don't need Jane and Vincent's help.But this book isn't actually about Jane and Vincent coming down to a plantation and freeing slaves anyway! I can't really describe what it is about, though. They want nothing more than to leave that damn place, and it's almost comical how many different ways Kowal contrives to keep them from leaving; most of the reasons are valid (and for all I know she researched actual ship schedules and Jane and Vincent just got screwed) but I still found it amusing. So they're forced to stay there and be uncomfortable. Luckily, Jane befriends an Igbo glamourist named Nkiruka who opens her mind to a whole new way of glamour: Nkiruka conceives of it differently and can do things that baffle Jane. She's a wonderful character and I'd love to see more of her. Meanwhile, Vincent discovers things are kind of fishy and begins an investigation.Here's the thing: I could read hundreds of pages of Jane and Vincent just being Jane and Vincent. Over the course of the series, they've become one of my favorite fictional couples. Jane has become so much stronger and more scientifically oriented. Vincent has become a much deeper, more conflicted, interesting person. I love how much they love each other, how honest and open they are with each other, how much they respect and admire each other. So the fact that anything actually happens around them is ancillary to my enjoyment; the fact that occasionally what happens surprises the hell out of me is a bonus. There is danger, there is excitement, there are severed limbs. Jane is incredible, Vincent is angsty, they are both amazing. So much happens in this book, but it's not a straightforward "Characters all work toward a goal" narrative, and that's fine: Jane and Vincent are Jane and Vincent and they do stuff with heaps of new characters I enjoyed.Of Noble Family closes this chapter in their lives. They have earned a respite.
Yashima
This is the 5th book in the series about Jane and Vincent. I had just previously read the 4th and enjoyed it, so I continued to this one. This book takes us back to the plot of the second book where Jane and Vincent get entangled in his estranged father's intrigues. The two of them get to travel to Antigua. Slavery plays a huge role in this story. One thing that may be debatable is how realistic Jane's quite modern sensibilities about slavery are but the author has a credible explanation ready that worked for me. Also I know that Kowal does a lot of research for her books so I am certain the historical details are all accurate. One of my favorite little details in the book (minor but spoilery) ...(view spoiler)[is the safe house on the plantation. Kowal mentions this derelict, badly repaired liability early on. And then she never returns there. It hangs over the plot like a shadow or the proverbial Checkhov's Gun waiting to be shot. When I had finally concluded that it was a red herring, ... read the book. (hide spoiler)]
Glennis
The final book in any series is bittersweet but I think this one ends on an up note for Vincent and Jane. Tragedy has struck Vincent in Vienna with the arrival of a letter telling him that his father has died and shortly after that his brothers were in a carriage accident and his eldest brother, the new Earl is dead and his middle brother is now the new holder of the Earldom but is crippled from accident and not able to travel to Antigua to follow up on word that a newer will has been filed down there since that was where his father was living before he died. They both go to help out his brother since England is in mourning for the death of the Prince Regent’s daughter and there will be no work for them. What they find is a complete mess once they arrive on the island that will take time to sort out. I liked that since this is the last book we also get an epilogue about what happens with them both in the future. It is a bit bittersweet knowing the stories have come to an end but it was a very enjoyable reading journey.
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