Having written a Jane Austen romance with magic Mary Robinette Kowal decided that the next sub-genre to master would be the spy thriller.
Ms. Kowal is a very accomplished short story writer and her novels feel very much like extended short stories. The good side of this is that they are short, fast and easy to read. The bad side is that they occasionally feel like they are being padded out to make them novel length. The books are short enough that the padding doesn’t last long but it feels like the plot doesn’t really get under way until about half way through the book.
What saves the narrative from being boring is the character of Jane who is likable and interesting enough in her scientific curiosity and social insecurities that she can carry the story a long way before it would become onerous.
What I especially like about this story is that Jane and her husband are making scientific discoveries and they have to work at it. They spend weeks working with a glass blower to figure out a way to trap a glamor in blown glass. In many movies and books the scientists/engineer hears about a new idea or technology, pushes a few buttons, mumbles a little and shows off his perfectly working non-prototype model of new technology.
As someone who works in an R&D department as an engineer this always seems the most false to me.
The actual spy thriller part of this story was a little light and acted only as a reason for a climax as Jane has to employ their new technology to save her husband after he is caught as a spy.
Kowal’s writing is smooth and her voice for this character is well developed. If you liked the first book in this series you will probably enjoy this one. It takes the characters to new places, new magic, new relationship issues and shows Jane being a hero. Rather than being more of the same, the story remains fresh and interesting.