Valour and Vanity, by Mary Robinette Kowal, was published in 2014 by Tor. It is the sequel to Without a Summer.
After Melody’s wedding, the Ellsworths and Vincents accompany the young couple on their tour of the continent. Jane and Vincent plan to separate from the party and travel to Murano to study with glassblowers there, but their ship is set upon by Barbary corsairs. It is their good fortune that they are not enslaved, but they lose everything to the pirates and arrive in Murano destitute. Jane and Vincent are helped by a kind local they meet en route, but Vincent is determined to become self-reliant and get their money back and hatches a plan to do so. But when so many things are not what they seem, even the best laid plans conceal a few pitfalls. The ensuing adventures is a combination of the best parts of magical fantasy and heist novels, set against a glorious Regency backdrop.
Valour and Vanity is much better than I remember Without a Summer being, though, granted, it’s been a while since I’ve read the latter. It’s a delightful heist novel, though the heist itself does not take place until the last third of the book, and the build-up to the heist is slow, yet never a trudge, and filled with appropriate tension and mystery. While the reason Jane and Vincent need to pull off a heist seems overly elaborate, it’s acknowledged by the characters and seems warranted due to the circumstances.
I prefer fantasy novels that, if they have complicated magic, it makes sense and is explained well. I don’t understand the glamour aspect of Kowal’s world and I don’t think I ever have or ever will. Kowal explains it often enough, but I’ve never been able to grasp the concept. I’m not sure if that’s a flaw in the design or simply a flaw in my understanding. It does make things a little hard to understand, and read, when it gets to the technicalities, such as the glass glamour spheres the Vincents are working on and all that complicated glamour stuff they do for the heist. Kowal at least makes it to the side of “understandable enough to pass muster,” though the system still seems confusing overall.
The previous two books in the series seemed a little more complicated and far-reaching than this one, and I really enjoyed the more simple nature of Valour and Vanity. Odd to say of a heist novel, I know. It further developed and resolved some storylines from the previous books, but the scope did not seem as large, nor did there seem to be so many interacting characters and storylines. There was much more of a focus on the development of Jane and Vincent’s characterization and relationship, done wonderfully well. This was probably my favorite book after the original, and it’s not even because of the heist, though that was well done. The characterization is delightful and that, above all, is what made me enjoy Valour and Vanity so much.
Recommended Age Range: 15+
Warnings: Implied sex within marriage.
“What is it you wish to make.”
“A sphere of cristallo.”
“That’s it? Just a ball?”
“A perfect sphere.” Vincent rolled his shoulders. “I shall need you to hold it quite steady as we cast glamour into it. The glassmaker we used in Binché—”
“I know what I am about, sir. You do not need to instruct me.”
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