Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Among Others by Jo Walton

Before I even start, let me just say: read this book. If you like reading, you need to do it. Among Others by Jo Walton is wonderful. I loved it so much. OK, insane gushing out of the way, here is the synopsis (from the Amazon book description):

Startling, unusual, and yet irresistably readable, Among Others is at once the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.

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…

That said, Among Others is one of those books whose synopsis cannot do it justice. Simply saying that this book is about a girl who can see fairies and who has an evil witch mother who she struggles against does not do it justice. These words do not convey the wit and toughness of the narrator, Mor, whose crippled leg keeps her from running through the fields of her native Wales, as she had as a child. They don’t convey the amazing balance author Jo Walton strikes between magic and the everyday. Mor describes her navigation of the intricate politics of her English boarding school’s sticky bun gifting system with the same matter-of-factness that she uses to talk about letters from her mother containing malevolent energy.

Mor also catalogues the many sci-fi books that she tears through at a remarkable pace. She enjoys the escapist nature of these books, but unlike many readers, who wish that their lives contained the magic of sci-fi and fantasy, Mor is afraid that the magic in her life has already been spent, and that its remains are leeching out as she gets older. She compares her life now to the Scouring of the Shire, the long section at the end of TheReturn of the King in which the hobbits return to their home after the end of the war and try to readjust to their normal lives. The engrossing story of Mor’s attempt to find the strength in herself and the magic that is left in the world is not to be missed.

As a voracious reader myself, Mor has inspired me to dig into some serious classic fantasy and sci-fi in the coming months. Using this bibliography as my guide, I embark on my journey, and will update my progress here from time to time. First stop: rereading Dune (I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer.) and then checking out some Heinlein, LeGuin, and Zelazny.

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