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Valour and Vanity, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review copy provided by Tor.

This is the fourth in Mary Robinette Kowal’s series of Regency fantasies. Two of the things that I like about it may seem contradictory, but I don’t think that they are. I think that it stands alone better than the previous two volumes–that it is a better jumping-in point than any other volume since the first, basically, and that’s valuable in an ongoing series. And I also think that it follows up on a character/emotional situation from the end of the third volume that I felt ended abruptly. I don’t think these two things are at all contradictory: the particular situation is one that can be introduced very smoothly into the text at the beginning of this volume and ramify throughout, but it had nagged at me since the end of volume three, and I was very glad to see it addressed here.

Jane and Vincent remain the main characters, and in fact one of the things that makes this volume stand alone fairly well is that they are traveling to Venice, leaving their friends and relations behind as they develop ideas for linking their new glamour (magic) skills and the Venetian glass industry. Venice, however, does not welcome them with open arms. Venice, in fact, is full of swindlers and con artists, though there are also some decent people they can trust–the trick, of course, is sorting out who. There are police and noblemen, nuns and puppeteers, glassblowers and glamour pupils, and which of them are out to steal the obscuring glamours–and with what allies and for what purposes.

I love glassblowing, and I love consequences, and this has both. There are even non-metaphorical fires: the cover is not misleading as so many fantasy novels with fiery covers are. If you’ve been keeping up with the series, this is a worthy entry; if you haven’t, go ahead and start here if you like.

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