Among Others was a joy to read, and yet I find it hard to describe exactly why. I don’t think there is any one thing, but a multitude of many elements that come together perfectly. I’ll try to touch on them briefly.
It is fantasy, but one firmly rooted in our world. Not just the setting which is England, but the magic system. Apparently it’s a sub genre called magical realism which was a first for me.
Basically there are no wizards walking around throwing fireballs or riding dragons. Magic is real and has real consequences, but instead of being fantastic it is almost mundane. As Morwenna, Mori, explains you can never truly tell when magic works, because there is always a rational explanation as to why it did.
While the presence of magic, and the fact that our heroine is able to use it, makes this a fantasy it is really a YA coming of age story. You have a teenage girl who has suffered a recent loss, runs away from home, has parental issues (seriously understated), gets sent to boarding school, is lonely, struggles to make friends, and stumbles her way through romance. So definitely YA. And yet it didn’t feel like a YA novel to me. Our heroine is intelligent, capable, and independent instead of the usual whiny, stupid, self-centered, immature characters that tend to populate YA.
I should note that while Mori can do magic, and is attending a boarding school in England it is nothing like Hogwarts. It is in fact very dull, but I enjoyed her interactions with her fellow students. Just don’t go in thinking this is a magical school. It’s not.
She also has a disability which is well written. I personally am in good health, but my mother has struggled with pain, and disability since her 20s. This representation was the best I have read in a book. It gets the thoughts and actions of the character right as well as the reactions of other people.
There is romance, but it is really a sub plot. I’ve obviously never been a teenage girl, but it felt authentic to me. Also, thankfully, it didn’t take over the story.
One of the best parts of the book was all the literary references. Mori loves to read. It is her one joy, and place of refuge from life, pain, and loneliness. Jo Walton lets us know what she is reading as well as her thoughts about the books. Almost all of these are SF/F which are my two favorite genres. I found myself comparing my opinions of books I had read, and writing down books/authors I had not in order to seek them out later.
Mori, and Jo Walton, have a deep appreciation of libraries which I think anyone reading this book will share. I personally enjoyed Mori’s forays into town to look for books. Or going to book club. It was almost enough to make me look up book clubs at my own library. Then I remembered that I love books; people not so much.
The format of this book is a journal which while not truly unique was well done. In the past I have not enjoyed this style in the least, but that might be because I’ve always seen it in classics which I generally struggle to read. Mostly I think it is because I’m a parent now, and it was so damn convenient having hundreds of natural stopping points.
I will say that in general the pacing is pretty slow. The journal format did help some with this as we get to skip ahead quite often. If you want to see the really cool magic, and the only real confrontation in the book you’ll have to wait until the end.
That’s not really what the book is about though. It’s about a young girl who has suffered a tragic loss, and who is lonely. It is about her dealing with these things, and trying to find her place in life the same as every teenager. The coming of age story is not my cup of tea, but Jo Walton’s Among Others kept me turning page after page. I highly recommend it.
My Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Edit: First, apparently Jo Walton herself suffers from the same disability as Mori so this is #ownvoices. I don’t particularly go in for #ownvoices if that is all it has going for it. If it so happens to be a great book, and is #ownvoices cool, but it isn’t something I seek out. I mention it because this explains how Walton got the disability dead on.
Secondly, I recently watched a review of this in which the reviewer felt very strongly that the Irish in Among Others are discriminated against. I didn’t get that at all when I read the book. I felt that it was more like how the South might currently view Yankees, and vice versa, in America. I mean sure some old timers, or the ignorant, might think all Northerners are carpet bagging idjits or that Southerners are all inbred rednecks, but overwhelmingly these are not really deeply held beliefs. I mean you can be a Yankee, and still an intelligent, good person. Right? =)
I include this however as I am an American, and am unfamiliar with Irish discrimination outside of basic world history. This review is from the perspective of an Irish woman, and she would know far better than I. Again personally I was not offended at all, but you decide.