Review: Of Noble Family

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Of Noble Family
Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a heavyweight – and not just because it’s almost twice as big as the earlier ones.

(mild spoilers follow)

Whereas Valour and Vanity was a historical heist novel, Of Noble Family could be seen as a psychological thriller. What should have been a simple engagement or even a relaxing vacation turns soon into horror, and Jane and Vincent have to bear the effects of the cage they’re trapped in – not strictly a physical cage, but one made of threats, promises, and obligations. Both characters are subject, in different degrees, to mental and physical distress that would make lesser people crumble.

Luckily, in addition to each other, they find good allies in the slaves and freedmen of the plantation, who share some of their mutual goals, as well as the black doctor Jones (who may or may not be named Martha) and the delightful character of Mrs. Whitten, who makes her first stunning appearance right on the book cover.
Rather than being stereotypical white saviours, Jane and Vincent are quite often chastened and/or rescued by the locals, who are more savvy of local customs, wary of the dangers of Antigua (whether from the weather, the corrupted soldiers, or the plantation master), and decidedly not prone to fall victims of cultural appropriation. I dare anyone not to fall immediately in love with Nkiruka and her endless amount of sass.

The thing that vexed me most, being the last book in the series, is that Jane is once again incapable of using glamour for most of the story. Since (almost) everything is described from her point of view, that means that we get verbal descriptions but never get to actually see how the different styles of African glamour work behind the scenes. As someone who loved the ‘technical’ parts of the previous novels, this was a bit disappointing.

Apart from that, this is as close to perfect as it can get for a series finale. I admit that I’ll miss Jane and Vincent and the folds of glamour, and I hope that one day we’ll get to read more stories from this world and its people (like Louisa and Zachary, dismantlers of slavery? pretty please?).

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