Title: Among Others
Author: Jo Walton
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: January 18th, 2011
Length: 304 pages | 10 hours 39 minutes
Source: Received in My Shelf to Yours book swap (which you should join!)
Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled–and her twin sister dead.
Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England–a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off…
This month is ace for great books so far. Huzzah! I received this book in a swap (I’d never heard about it before), and I didn’t really read the synopsis- I don’t think I would have picked it up myself. But shame on me, because it was really good!
Essentially, this book is a coming of age story. With magic (set in the late 1970s, in Wales and England). The voice of the protagonist is achingly real- the entire story is her diary entries, so we see the world through her eyes. She doesn’t want to think or talk about her mother (or her father, much), nor does she go into what happened to her twin sister.
In fact, for the first half of the book I was thinking she was an unreliable narrator (maybe insane, as she claims her mother is) and by the end of the book I was *still* wondering how much of this stuff was in her head. Real for her, but not for the rest of us. That’s the magic of this book- the system of magic is “always deniable”, and makes a beautiful sort of rule-less sense, so of course the entire story is also deniable. And breaks conventional rules of storytelling.
If you go into this novel expecting an epic showdown, as the synopsis hints, you will be disappointed. The pace is steady but slow, with little to no rising action until the climax itself (in the last 10 pages of the book). But the language, and the process of Mor essentially crawling into the world (not giving up her books, but not hiding behind them of her past anymore), is the true story.
I was surprised this won a Hugo, because the narrator’s primary positive experiences with the world are with fairies, which always seem a fantasy element to me. But Mor is an avid reader, and loves science fiction (and given the setting, her SciFi books are the classics) and talks at length about the brilliance or insipidness of the books she’s reading. So in a way, it felt like this real person (or perhaps the author? It does feel somewhat autobiographical) was recommending books directly to me.
If you like thoughtful, unique novels that aren’t necessarily an adventure story, classic science fiction, magical realism, contemporary coming of age (where love isn’t the trite answer to everything), a potentially unrealiable narrator, and an authentic MC voice, I highly recommend this one.