Sometimes you find a book which reminds you what fun it was to discover magical books randomly as a child.
Among Others by Jo Walton
Find it on: LibraryThing
What it is:
Technically speaking, it’s a YA fantasy novel but it doesn’t bow to most conventions you would expect from those. Mori’s story happens after her great battle – to which we only hear allusions – ended. She survived but her twin sister didn’t and now she needs to build a life after she’s saved the world, surviving a snotty boarding school, getting to know her estranged father and, most of all, reading tons of science fiction.
How I found it:
Don’t remember. It was on my to-read list with 4 stars so I must have read an inviting review somewhere. Maybe LibraryThing?
I haven’t enjoyed a book quite like this for a while.
Best things about it:
The unconventional way it treats fantasy, so that it resembles magical realism more than anything else. Mori is very matter-of-fact about seeing fairies and doing magic and focuses more on down-to-earth matters of growing up, which makes the story very grounded.
Worst things about it:
For people who want their fantasy fulfilling certain expected conventions, it must be a letdown, a book in which barely anything happens. In fact, as I was approaching the end, I wondered if it had a continuation because I wasn’t sure if it would manage to finish a story at all (it did).
✤ The very idea to focus on what happens to the hero after the battle is won is successful in its un-flashiness.
✤ I really like how unostentatious magic is, more a moral question than a source of fireworks and how its lack of glamour allows Walton to focus on the heroine’s personal dramas. In fact, you could probably remove the magic altogether and still have an interesting story about a dysfunctional family (and a disturbed girl). At a stretch, you could probably interpret it this way.
✤ The just-unrealistic-enough love affair is cute. I would’ve loved it as a younger person. Now I focus more on the unrealistic part, I guess.
✤ The places live in the story, not just Wales, which the author clearly loves, but even the school and the small town nearby.
Sometimes the protagonist reads as many as eight novels a week, five regularly. I find that hard to believe (even in my better reading days I never managed as much).
How it enriched my life:
It made me want to read more, for one thing. It also reminded me of the joy of reading just for the sake of getting to know the story.
It’s funny how much of the science fiction novels that Mori devours I have actually read. Because the story takes place in 1979 and 1980, it is a love letter to older science fiction and fantasy which I used to read in large amounts because that’s what the local library had in stock.
(A new section because why not. It’s the thing I’m most qualified to discuss anyway. It will always refer to the version of the cover illustrated on the top.)
The photo captures the atmosphere of the book magnificently but the stars are an overkill: they should’ve been done as a photographic trick of light, rather than so literally because this cheapens the concept (both of the cover and the book).
I might check out Walton’s other stuff if I come across it but I like how much of a standalone this one is. I might possibly return to it some time.
Fans of classic science fiction and fantasy who don’t mind challenging the conventions. People who enjoy an unromanticized vision of a boarding school, or just of growing up.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Next time: Lovesick