The first in the series, Shades of Milk and Honey, hits all the right Austen notes. It is the story of Jane Ellsworth, as the back cover blurb says,
a woman ahead of her time in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. But despite the prevalence of magic in everyday life, other aspects of Dorchester's society are not that different. The lives of Jane and her sister Melody still revolve around vying for the attentions of eligible men.(Melody does not feel like a Regency-era name to me. I didn't find it listed in Maggie Lane's Jane Austen and Names.)
Jane and Melody live with their parents, a couple who reminded me more than a little of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Melody is the beauty of the family, while Jane is the more skilled at glamour, which (as Ms. Kowal explains in a helpful Glossary) "is a magic that can be worked by either men or women. It allows them to create illusions of light, scent and sound." It usually has to be tied to something in the physical world, which limits its applications. It also takes a toll on the person casting the glamour.
I think I was expecting a more active and more exciting magic in the story. I found the first book a bit slow, though it came to an exciting conclusion. I enjoyed this second book more. Jane is married to a fellow glamourist, and after completing a commission for the Prince Regent, they travel to a village in Belgium, where Jane's husband Vincent once studied. He is working on a particular type of glamour, the sphere obscurie, "a bubble of magic to make the person inside invisible." He hopes to find a way to make the glamour portable, tied to a physical object that a person can carry around. Jane, who worked with him on the Prince Regent's commission in London, wants to make their marriage a partnership in work and in love. As they adjust to their marriage and their shared interest in glamour, she realizes that Vincent is hiding something from her, locked away in his traveling desk. When she becomes pregnant and is forced to stop working with the glamour, the distance between them grows. Meanwhile, signs of support for the exiled Napoleon are popping up. As an Englishwoman abroad, Jane meets hostility, adding to her sense of isolation. But when Vincent suggests she return to England, she refuses, even as rumors of Napoleon's return begin to spread.
At one point, I had to Google the timeline of the Napoleonic Wars, to see where Jane and Vincent's adventures fit in. (Ms. Kowal explains in an afterword where she altered the timeline to fit her story.) I found that part of the story exciting and interesting, and Jane proved to be quite the heroine. But I also enjoyed the quieter parts of the story, as their relationship deepens and they work together on glamour. I admired Jane's determination to be a partner, to use and strengthen her talents, not to be constrained by the expected roles of women of her class. There are three more books in the series, and I'm looking forward to more adventures with Jane.