Book Review: Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal


Jane and Vincent have finally gotten some much-needed rest after their adventures in Italy when Vincent receives word that his estranged father has passed away on one of his onf-coverproperties in the West Indies. His brother, who manages the estate, is overwhelmed, and no one else in his family can go. Grudgingly, out of filial duty the couple decide to go.

The sea voyage is long and Jane spends enough time unable to perform glamour that towards the end of the trip she discovers that she is with child. They are overjoyed, but when they finally arrive at the estate to complete what they expect to be routine legal tasks, they realize that nearly everything they came expecting to find had been a lie. Also, the entire estate is in disarray, with horrifying conditions and tensions with the local slave population so high that they are close to revolt.

Jane and Vincent’s sense of peril is screaming out for them to flee, but Vincent cannot stand to leave an estate connected with his family in such a condition. They have survived many grand and terrifying adventures in their time, but this one will test their skills and wits more than any they have ever encountered before, this time with a new life hanging in the balance.



Ah, so here we are at the end of another series. The Glamourist Histories has been a good series overall and I’ve enjoyed spending five books following Jane and Vincent’s adventures. In this last book they are dealing with some pretty heavy stuff including abusive family members and slavery.

I’ll be honest, I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. In this final installment we find Jane and Vincent still recovering from their ordeal in Italy. They’ve finally met up with Jane’s family again and things are starting to get back to normal when suddenly Vincent gets word that his father has died. Because his brother is incapacitated he asks Vincent if he’ll travel to the Caribbean and see the the property there, make sure the estate is being handled correctly. He reluctantly agrees, seeing that they’ll have to be officially in mourning for some time and not able to do any glamour jobs, it may be a way for he and Jane to support themselves for the next while. But what they find when they get to the West Indies is full of surprises and horror.

I’m glad that we didn’t see Vincent and Jane come into this situation with an ‘I’m going to solve slavery’ type of attitude (although I feel like it was maybe on the verge of this several times…). They were rightfully horrified by the situation they walked into, unused to seeing people actually own other people since they had never encountered slavery before. It did, in some ways, feel like Jane (and even Vincent at times) was a little naive. But that’s kind of par for the course with Jane, she stumbles into situations slightly ignorant sometimes, or doesn’t necessarily understand the consequences of her interference until it’s too late. I get that she’s trying to be helpful but it doesn’t always work out at first. That’s actually pretty true to life, so I felt like that was well written even if it makes for awkward reading at times.

And I think that’s my main complaint. As Jane and Vincent stumble through this new environment it all feels extremely awkward. There are things that are acknowledged but never spoken of, and things that are observed that they can do little about even if they wanted to help. Things they do to try and help and it makes things worse. It doesn’t help that the villains of the book lack depth. The overseer of the plantation is a greedy man and his wife an unabashed social climber–they both crave power and status and their positions lend that to them on the small island community. There’s not really anything redeemable about them as people, they’re thoroughly unlikable and of course they are because it’s so much easier to hate them that way, shoving all of your bad feelings about slavery onto their shoulders. I honestly think it would have been so much more effective to have these people be likable and then show the horrors of what they’re responsible for in contrast to them being such ‘nice people’. Because ‘nice people’ do horrific things too. And it’s so much more disarming when you think you like someone and then find out they’re actually kind of horrible because of this one aspect of their life. But, that’s just my opinion and maybe I’ve thought way too much about this.

I do think the part with Vincent’s father being an abusive parent was well done for the most part. I especially thought Vincent’s trauma felt very realistic. Although some aspects of that story line felt rather obvious the way in which it was written. ‘Oh, well here is Vincent being manipulated, see how much of a manipulator abusers can be? This is a textbook scenario.’ I had this problem with one of the other books earlier in the series, where it felt like the author was trying to cover some subject and things were written to that point, or to showcase that message, instead of the story feeling organic, if that makes sense. But, again, perhaps I’m just being overly picky.

There was still a plethora of great storytelling in this book. We have Jane and Vincent weathering another storm together, their relationship sometimes strained and pulling at the seams from all of the different pressures being put onto it. And this just after the events of the last book where they had one of their biggest blow ups ever. It was good to see them test the waters and come through for one another here, it shows that they’ve both grown. Some other dynamics come into play in the story as well, things that have huge consequences for the direction of the plot and for the characters relationships as well, but I won’t go into that because I don’t want to spoil anything except to say that I really did enjoy a lot of Jane and Vincent’s moments together in this one. I also enjoyed some of the new characters we got to meet in this book. I thought a lot of the folks they met on the plantation (with a few notable exceptions) were very well written and multi-faceted.

Overall I thought this was a good book, but not as great as the last one. I’m happy, however, to have finally finished this series. 3.5/5 stars.


11 thoughts on “Book Review: Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal

  1. @lynnsbooks says:

    This is a series that I’ve always fancied but it sounds a little like the final book is a tiny bit disappointing. I think I bought the first book anyway so I’m sure I’ll pick it up eventually.
    Lynn πŸ˜€

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