I just finished Among Others by Jo Walton, enjoying it hugely. Not only am I pretty sure that some of you would like it too, I can predict who will and who won’t.
Predictions · The novel concerns a young person who’s mixed up in magic (believably and carefully) while fighting through the problems of adolescence in a dysfunctional but super-interesting family. Right away, some of you are thinking “sounds interesting”; the rest can stop reading right here.
Next: if you’re a bookish kind of person who as a kid read everything in sight; to whom books were and are important, the chances are very high that this is for you.
And finally, if you were a sci-fi hound in your youth, if you recognize names like Delany and Zelazny and Brunner, you want to run not walk to the nearest bookstore or Web site and snap it up; trust me on this.
Good Stuff · This book is amazingly well-written. It comes at you indirectly, gracefully, full of surprises. The central conflict climaxed offstage before the story really gets started; the action plays out amid its aftermath.
I guess some facts are in order: It’s the story of a 15-year-old girl with some love in her family but a scary mother who, crippled by the accident where she lost her identical twin, is exiled to an icky boarding school. She has the cutest romance with an adorable young man, and does a good job of dealing with school’s horrors.
She can make magic, and talks with fairies.
A Theory of Magic · Gosh, this is starting to sound familiar, isn’t it? Magic, boarding school, supernatural creatures?
Only our heroine Mori (and her family) is a much more interesting person than anyone at Hogwarts (or theirs), and the story arc isn’t a linear progression of triumphs, and the magic is immensely more believable.
Which matters. I think that if you’re going to write a book in which people do magic, there ought to be some coherency to it, and it shouldn’t be easy, and it should be serious business. I’d argue that this was the chief failing of the Rowling books (which, to be fair, I read and enjoyed). Waving a wand and barking pseudo-Latin to fire off a spell which the victim might actually dodge?! Gimme a break.
Prior to this, the most impressive theory of magic I’ve read was that in Le Guin’s Earthsea books. That magic had to be wielded sparingly, with careful regard for the world’s balance, and occasionally at terrible personal cost to the practitioner.
This magic is different; but still coherent and dangerous and needful of caution. The magic, and the fairies which accompany it, are remarkably convincing; what real magic and real supernatural creatures might be like, were you ever to encounter them. It’s good stuff.
Being Bookish · Our heroine, running from her mother, bereft of her sister, frightened of her aunts, often in pain, lives by books. Libraries are at the center of the story, of the romance, of the family healing. Nobody who’s been a bookish teenager could fail, I think, to resonate.
And not just any books; the story is set specifically in 1979-80, and the stories in question are the classic Sci-Fi of those days; those names I mentioned up in the first paragraph. They meant a whole lot to a lot of people, both older and I suspect much younger than me. They are active characters in this book, and while I suspect you’d enjoy it even if you didn’t like Doorways in the Sand or The Dispossessed, you’ll smile from ear to ear at certain lines here if you do.
(By the way, neither of those seem to be for sale electronically, but if you don’t know one or the other and see it on a used-book shelf, buy first and think later. Both are good but Doorways has to be one of the most charming and personable little SF novels ever.)
A Fearless Prediction · This thing totally has a lock on the Nebula.