Glamour in Glass
|Author:||Mary Robinette Kowal
|Series:||Jane Ellsworth: Book 2|
|Sub-Genre Tags:||Historical Fantasy|
Fantasy of Manners
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Mary Robinette Kowal stunned readers with her charming first novel Shades of Milk and Honey, a loving tribute to the works of Jane Austen in a world where magic is an everyday occurrence. This magic comes in the form of glamour, which allows talented users to form practically any illusion they can imagine. Shades debuted to great acclaim and left readers eagerly awaiting its sequel. Glamour in Glass follows the lives of beloved main characters Jane and Vincent, with a much deeper vein of drama and intrigue.
In the tumultuous months after Napoleon abdicates his throne, Jane and Vincent go to Belgium for their honeymoon. While there, the deposed emperor escapes his exile in Elba, throwing the continent into turmoil. With no easy way back to England, Jane and Vincent's concerns turn from enjoying their honeymoon... to escaping it.
Left with no outward salvation, Jane must persevere over her trying personal circumstances and use her glamour to rescue her husband from prison... and hopefully prevent her newly built marriage from getting stranded on the shoals of another country's war.
Finding oneself a guest of honour only increases the presentiment of anxiety, should one be disposed to such feelings. Jane Vincent could not help but feel some measure of alarm upon hearing her name called by the Prince Regent, for though she fully expected to be escorted into dinner by someone other than her husband, she had not expected to accompany His Royal Highness and to be seated at his right hand. Though this was but an intimate dinner party of eighteen, by the order of precedence her place should be at the rear of the line. Yet one could hardly express such doubts to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, Regent of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Faerie, and Ireland.
The only title Jane could claim on her own was that of Mrs. David Vincent, and her entire claim for being invited at all lay in her marriage to the Prince Regent's favourite glamourist. As they exited Carlton House through a tented hall, Jane felt all the eyes of those assembled fall upon her, and under their gaze the unequal nature of her station magnified. The dove silk which had seemed so fine when she had commissioned it last summer now seemed dingy by comparison to gowns such as Lady Hertford's rich claret velvet, which had long sleeves slashed to allow glimpses of a cloth of silver. Her mother had wanted to buy her a new gown, but Jane had resisted. She was an artisan now, and had no intention of pretending to be part of the fashionable set ... and yet, being escorted by the Prince Regent made that choice seem less easy now.
But all that worry fell away upon entering the Polygon Ballroom, which glittered and dripped with diaphanous folds of glamour hung to create the illusion of a water folly filled with mermaids and sea-horses. She and Vincent had laboured for the past three months on the spectacle and they could justly be proud of the effect, though she would have to retouch the anemones when she had a chance. The colour was off when compared to the palette of this winter's fashions.
The Prince Regent stopped with her on the threshold of the temporary structure and inhaled with pleasure.
They had taken the Polygon Ballroom, designed by Mr. John Nash for the fête honouring the defeat of Napoleon, and transformed it for the coming New Year's Eve celebration by refashioning it into the home of a sea king. Elaborate swathes of glamour masked the walls so that they appeared to be in the midst of a coral palace with views onto an under-sea world. Past the casements of the illusory walls, brilliant tropical fish schooled in waves of shimmering colour. Light seemed to filter down through clear blue water to lay dappled on the smooth white tablecloths.
The Prince Regent smiled and patted her hand where it lay on the dark blue cloth of his sleeve. "My dear Mrs. Vincent. I have long been an admirer of your husband's work, but you have led him to new heights of glory."
"You honour me, far more than I think I deserve."
"I honour you as much as I think you deserve, and you must grant that my wishes are the law in this land."
Jane let him lead her swiftly across the vast ballroom to the head of the table and place her by the chair on his right hand. Only then did Jane understand the true gift the Prince Regent offered her. They had far outpaced the guests immediately behind them, who paused on the threshold, apparently overcome by the room. As the line forced them forward, they proceeded toward the table, but slowly, with eyes fixed in wonder on the illusion. Stationed as she was, Jane stood in a perfect place to witness the guests' approbation over and over again as even the most jaded halted to gasp upon the threshold.
Their faces shone with wonder at the work she and Vincent had created.
As the last couple approached, His Royal Highness leaned over and whispered in her ear. "Now watch."
Her husband stood on the threshold, escorting Lady Hertford. The Prince Regent began to applaud, and, as one, his guests joined him in honouring Mr. Vincent. Jane did not know whether to applaud with them out of her own deep admiration for her husband, or if she should remain silent, since she had borne half the burden of the work about them. She settled for folding her hands at her breast and letting forth an unfettered smile.
Vincent paused, clearly taken unawares by this open show of approbation. He inclined his head gravely, then, straightening, led Lady Hertford to the foot of the table and her place at his right hand. Never comfortable in company, the sternness of his face hid what Jane knew to be very real feeling.
The Prince Regent reached for his glass and raised it. "To Mr. Vincent and to his bride, who shows us that he is no longer a glamourist without peer."
Jane blushed at the attention as every head turned to her. She could see them recalculating her worth and now understanding why the Prince Regent had led such an unhandsome woman into dinner. Under the weight of their stares, her gaze fell to the table, taking refuge among the plate and crystal assembled there. Her relief when the Prince pulled her chair out and seated her could scarcely be imagined.
Accustomed as she was to the more retiring life on her father's country estate, Jane had not looked for any honours when she married Mr. Vincent. The few months of their marriage had been filled with work and the joy of learning to shape their lives together. This commission had seemed honour enough when it had come, almost as if it were a wedding gift from the Prince Regent.
Around them, the footmen began bringing out the first course, a turtle soup. Jane was glad to have the activity distract attention from her. She took advantage of the respite to gather herself so that when the Prince Regent next addressed her, she was better prepared for conversation.
The initial topics were of such amicable and unforced weight as the weather, and if she thought it might snow on the morrow. She did not and said so.
This relieved his royal highness, as the press of carriages expected for the New Year's Eve festivities would be immense. By the time the soup was cleared, Jane felt somewhat more at ease and was able to engage the Prince Regent in a conversation about music, a topic on which they shared some common ground.
"You must allow that Rossini is far superior to the froth that Spohr is passing off as composition. It confounds me that the Italian fellow is not better known." The Prince Regent selected an oyster from the array of dishes the footman laid upon the table with the next course.
"I have not had the privilege of hearing his music performed in earnest, so I am not a good judge, I am afraid."
He huffed. "You only have to examine the page to see the difference between them. One's music flows with the inevitability of a stream, the other staggers from theme to theme like a drunken beggar." He lifted his glass and nodded over it to the gentleman on her left. "Am I not right, Skiffy?"
On her left, Sir Lumley St. George Skeffington abandoned the conversation with his dinner partner to answer. "Of course you are right. When are you ever not? But what is it that you are right about this time?"
"I suggest that Rossini is superior to Spohr."
"Oh." Sir Lumley waved his hand in dismissal. "I do not follow such things. Ask me about a tailor, and I might honour you with an opinion."
The Prince Regent smiled, and glanced sidelong at Jane. "Then pray, tell me what you think of Monsieur Lecomte?"
"Oh! Horrid. Horrid, I tell you. I have never seen a man with less understanding of the nature of cloth than he displays. Why, did you know that I went in on the recommendation of a friend, whose advice I shall not favour henceforth, and M. Lecomte had the temerity to suggest superfine cloth? To me?" He took out a perfumed handkerchief and patted his forehead. "I turned on my heel and left without another sign. It was clear he was not current."
Smiling, the Prince Regent adjusted the sleeve of his coat, which was, Jane was startled to note, cut from superfine cloth. "So, you see, Mrs. Vincent, he does not always agree with me."
Sir Lumley leaned back in his chair in a show of mock horror. "Now, Prinny, you do not mean to tell me that you have honoured M. Lecomte with your business?"
"I was, I confess, curious to see how a man who claimed to have worked for Napoleon might measure against our good English tailors."
Jane smiled in polite interest. When the silence seemed to indicate that it was her turn to speak, she ventured to ask, "How did you find him sir?"
The Prince considered for a moment and then offered a single word. "Foppish."
"And yet you wear the coat he made for you?" Jane studied the coat. It was cut along French lines, but she had begun to grow used to that as the fashionable set raced to catch up with the other side of the Channel. "Might I inquire as to why?"
"It amuses me."
Jane was uncertain if that amusement stemmed from the tailor or from the near apoplexy he had brought on in Sir Lumley. Her attention was distracted from this question, for, in examining the Prince's coat, she happened to spy the glamural beyond him. She could barely stifle an "Oh!" at what she beheld and kept her countenance placid only with some difficulty.
Behind a window in the coral, they had placed a school of iridescent fish, swimming past at intervals. The effect had been achieved by measuring out a long spool of thin glamour, which contained no illusion save for occasional bubbles, and then looping it around to tie to the fish. Though Jane had used such threads of empty space before, she had worked with none so long as this. It had required her to stand in one place to control the thread for exa...
Copyright © 2012 by Mary Robinette Kowal
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