First, the good stuff:
Mary Robinette Kowal is a master of tone. She has absorbed the essence of the Georgian romances and distilled it here. I loved her use of language; this is a book designed to be read aloud. In fact, having listened to her give a reading, I recommend the audio book even above the hardcover. The main character, Jane, is sympathetic for most of the novel. The magic system is so natural and organic to the world here that it merits study by fantasy writers who might otherwise avoid fantasy romances. The world building is superb, though limited to the upper class world Jane Austen wrote about. I wished the novel had been longer so I could live in this world a little more.
Now the flaws:
Let me preface this by saying I know from hard experience how difficult it is to get a novel right. So any comments that follow are intended as room for improvement and not as an attack on the writer, editor, etc…
The book is too short. Another 100 pages would have given more room for the plot to expand and breathe. There needed to be a final turn after the true character of the actors are revealed and the protagonist’s affections change. As written, the sudden change in affections is jarring and artificial. Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer weren’t immune to this flaw but the best of both works allowed time for a character’s affection to evolve naturally.
Next, there are one too many beaus for Jane is this book. As a result, they all have to be disposed of by the end and it contributes to an unsatisfying ending. Two potential mates is a limit to juggle satisfactorily in a book of this length.
In addition, there are too many plot threads unresolved. One of the things I love about Jane Austen is that at the end, all the major plot threads are resolved. They are not there. Melody remains at ends (she’s also not terribly sympathetic), so does Mr. Dunkirk and his sister. Since the book is set up as a romantic comedy, I expected it to fulfill the tropes of everyone getting paired up, happily or being served their just deserts. As a story it suffers from that lack.
Finally, and this is purely subjective, the wrong man ends up with the wrong girl. Jane is depicted through 80% of the book as having extremely warm feelings towards one character. These feelings are rapidly and conveniently discarded when she discovers he’s dueled and killed someone who despoiled his sister. Personally, I found that heroic and laudable but Jane finds so violently abhorrent that she discards years of feelings for him in an eyeblink. Related, the man who ‘wins’ her hand reveals his feeling towards her in a journal and that alone appears to be enough for Jane to suddenly fall in love with him and reject her previous love. I didn’t buy it. The ended suffered as a result.
In conclusion, I recommend this book to anyone who loves Jane Austen. It is not Austen or Heyer but it resonates with both. I loved it for what it was and sighed over what it wasn’t. I enjoyed reading it and look forward to whatever the author writes next. Buy it, especially the audio book.