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Ashana Lian's Fantasy Lab

Fantasy and Fantasy Writing from every angle: fantasy and sci-fi novels, films, artwork, superhero cartoons, children's and YA books, manga, anime, video games and comics. Put the microscope on 'Geek Culture'.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Book: Among Others by Jo Walton

Amazon UK classes this book is Literary Fiction, maybe because of its awards, but Amazon Dot Com classes it as Fantasy under the sub-gen Magical Realism, which is what I assumed myself when reading. I remember this book being pushed at the bookshop where I work.

The plan was actually to read The City by Stella Something - I keep forgetting, whoops. But it got to Wednesday and I realised I hadn't read anything for the Fantasy Challenge =S so I ordered The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman because it's shorter. Even with Amazon Student though, it would arrive on Friday as I ordered after 6 or whatever. So I thought, that's two days away, I might as well start reading what I have with me now. So this book was chosen due it being the shortest fantasy book immediately to hand. Based on the blurb, it isn't the fantasy book I would normally pick up, which is precisely why I did.

Among Others review

Image: Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Author: Jo Walton
Publisher: Tor Books (Corsair in the UK)
Published: 2010 (Corsair edition)
Fantasy Sub-Genre: Magical Realism/ Urban

'It doesn't matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.'

When Mori discovers that her mother is using black magic, she decides to intervene. The ensuing clash between mother and daughter leaves Mori bereft of her twin sister, crippled for life and unable to return to the Welsh Valleys that were her own kingdom.

Mori finds solace and strength in her beloved books. But her mother is bent on revenge, and nothing and no one – not even Tolkien – can save her from the final reckoning.

Summary. Mori goes to stay with her Dad and her aunts, after surviving the incident that killed her twin and stopped her mother from gaining power using magic. They send her away to Arlinghurst boarding school for girls, which she hates, but she manages to build a network around her through her top grades, her poetry writing skills, and her immeasurable love of SF and F books. Buuuut, she begins to realise things about magic that not only turns the tables on the way she's been using it, but also places her in danger of the others who wield it. I think that's a pretty good summary. It's actually gives you a bit more to get your teeth into, and I didn't give too much away, I swear XD  I mean I didn't, oh and by the way, if you're looking for a spoiler free review you're in the wrong place.

First of all, the writing isn't as smooth as I have gotten used to lately. Far, far better than Kay's Tigana, but not as beautifully creative, emotive and imagerial (that's a word, I checked. Though I wish there was a better adjective for the word imagery) as Brennan's A Natural History Of Dragons. It doesn't distract from the story and it's soon forgotten.

The story is told by a fifteen year old, but is nowhere near as dramatic as I've found Young Adult books to be. The character Mori herself is very likeable, mainly because she is clever and has a compassion for the beautiful and the magical, and also because she's a huge fan of the Science Fiction and Fantasy literature of the time - the 70's/80's. Otherwise, her circumstances leave her very cut off from others and she spends a great deal of time in her head. It gives us a lot of interesting and often hilarious musings as we read her journal. A journal was the perfect style for this book, as Mori's isolation meant that there wasn't a huge amount of dialogue in chunks of the book.

On the note of SF and F, I've got so many new titles to read up on from the 70's! I loved that this book was set in the past, and the description was lovely. I was really intrigued about Welsh culture and bemused by Mori sharing her family's complicated and illustrious history, but I just loved her critique of the dozens and dozens of books explored. I generally felt awed by such comprehensive knowledge. I'm working my way towards being that knowing on the awesome fantasy genre!

Magic is so subtle, you don't even stop to wonder if any of it is plausible. I loved how naturally it weaved into the plot. I must say though, it fell just short of A Natural History Of Dragons' realism, but Among Others was darned close. The portrayal of the 'fairies' was pretty amazing; I'm sure I've said so before but there are not my favourite fantasy race. (And yet for some reason they're in my book. =/ ) I think the subtlety helped a lot with that. Blending the fairies into the terrain, both the physical terrain and the actual novel, was a very good choice in my opinion. By not overwhelming us with magical facts, Jo Walton succeeded in putting this book solidly in the Magical Realism sub-gen.

Didn't spot a single typo. After I'd taken the trouble of remembering which twin was the protagonist I was thrown when at one point she puts her whole name and uses 'Morganna' instead of 'Morwenna'. I even flipped back to the bit where her Dad is telling her what name he put down to make sure I hadn't gone batship crazy. It is later explained that she begins using her twin' name after Morganna died, so I'm glad Jo Walton didn't leave me hanging!

There another thing about this book. The sense of realism is achieved by the fact that everything is very subtle. Sometimes we are introduced to characters who have the barest minimum influence on the story. Many characters didn't have as much impact as I thought they would, but that's because I've read so much Epic and High, where devices are purposefully bought in for later use, that I expected too much. When I realised this and relaxed into where the story was flowing, it was such a nice experience because it felt even more like an authentic journal by not being dramatic.

That brings me to the ending. Interestingly, every single book I've read for the Challenge so far has ended in a way I didn't expect, and so far there have been both good and bad. This is one of the ambiguous ones. I have no idea what I was expecting - not a showdown, but I knew her mother would appear because the entire story was leading up to it, like how Half Bad [SPOILER FOR ANOTHER BOOK! JUST SAYIN'!] was building up to Nathan's Dad turning up. Er... he was called Nathan, right?

As much as I enjoyed the eerie semi-battle between them, I must say I just didn't Get It. As if it was meant to be symbolic and I missed the message. I've tried to read the ending in both a literal and figurative way, and (I can't believe I'm saying this for fantasy but) the figurative was even more confusing than the literal. So when the book ended, I wasn't disappointed or let down... but I was only barely sated because I knew Mori's troubles had come to a close, but how was just out of my reach.

I was disappointed Wim wasn't present at the end, but I admit this ending was probably better. Maybe I'm not a romantic but I do like teamwork. =]

The Verdict


- which was a no-brainer, unlike Dream London and Tigana. It couldn't be a four but for me, being the 'Wonder' type Fantasy Fanatic, I didn't feel connected enough to the story - which is ironic because the magic that Mori is often aware of heavily relies on connections. It didn't pack a punch for me, but it's a incredibly valuable resource for me as both a reader and a writer. I think I may even be able to use this for my dissertation, which is on fantasy if I haven't already said!

I must say though, this book did make me laugh out loud quite a few times. Mori is such a likeable character which I really value, and this insight of magic and fairies is different to anything I've experienced before.

Fantasy Food For Thought

'If I reached magic into that [...] for the bus to be coming right when I wanted it [...] I'd have to change all that, the times they got up, even, and maybe the whole timetable back to when it was written. [...] Goodness knows what difference that would make in the world, and that's just for a bus. I don't know how that fairies even dare.' (p.162, 2010 Corsair Edition.)

Second, one of the incredible concepts of this book is the way magic works. Magic is not flashy and doesn't at all feel 'magical'. Instead, it alters circumstances so that what you want will come to pass. For example, Mori muses that if she used magic to make the bus come, how many peoples lives had she affected, making them get on and off at the exact times and the bus travelling at an exact speed to reach her destination exactly when she wanted it?

But Mori is guilt ridden because she doesn't fully understand how casting magic is not meddling in other peopels lives. For example, when she wanted a karass, she used magic, but how far back into the past did magic have to alter events of Wim, Janine, Pete, Hugh, Greg, Harriet and so on, so that they would be there, at that exact moment and place, to become her karass?

It raised a FASCINATING question about magic disrupting the narual course of time to work. Fascinating.

And a more trivial question... fairies. Wings or no wings?

Ashana Lian .

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