Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal is the fourth of her Glamourist Histories series, following Shades of Milk & Honey, Glamour in Glass, and Without a Summer. The series crosses Regency romances with alternate (but not terribly alternate) history and a dash of domestic magic that may yet admit of industrial applications.
The teaser on the back cover of the book (UK trade paperback edition) gave away the tension of the first third of Valour & Vanity. It’s the kind of book that thrives on tension, so the giveaway was annoying, and that means that I will not be saying much about its plot at all.
By the end of the third book in the series, Kowal has settled her protagonists, and set them up very well in Regency England. They have money; they have social standing; they have each other and their art. Because neither Jane nor Vincent is much given to striving for more, except for further refinement of their art, there is little ground for conflict in the fourth book unless they lose some of what they have. Kowal deals them setbacks in an foreign land at the start of the story, and the pace of early 19th-century communications means that the two of them will be left on their own for quite some time, unable to draw on their families’ resources. Can they overcome what has happened to them?
Valour & Vanity is also a particular kind of novel, one that Kowal says in an afterword that she found more difficult to write than she expected. That shows mainly in that the wheels of the plot are more visible than they were in the previous books of the series. I’m glad that she’s expanding her repertoire, and that she’s not content for the books in this set to be merely additional installments. It’s also great fun, with more physical humor and greater details on the role of glamour than in the preceding books. Plus Lord Byron goes skinny-dipping.