Details: Walton, Jo. (2011). Among Others. New York: Tor Books
Keywords: Faeries, Wales, Diary Style, Fantasy, Magical Realism, Books
I can’t remember how I originally heard about Among Others, but it was one of those books that started showing up everywhere. I noticed it at bookstores, people I knew reviewed it or mentioned it, so I figured the book gods were trying to tell me something. Never ignore the book gods.
I’m not even sure where to start with this book because it is one that kind of sneaks up on you. It’s very quiet, written in journal form from the point of view of fifteen year old Morwenna, a Welsh girl who loves—LOVES—to read. She can also see faeries and do magic.
Let’s start with the faerie thing since it’s the most obvious selling point of the book (it’s where my mom went “ooh” when I was giving her a summary so, I am guessing other people would be intrigued by that too. Hi, mom). The magic in this world is subtle, more of a nature magic that exists only for those who believe in it. I’m actually surprised this is categorized as a fantasy book because it reads much more like magical realism.
Being able to see faeries and do magic, mostly to protect herself from her evilish mother, is certainly important to Morwenna, but it serves more to shore up other things happening in her life. In this way, the book would be perfect for someone taking tentative steps into fantasy as a genre, especially if they come from reading a lot of literary fiction. (While I love Tolkien, he is a lot to spring on someone new to the genre. Manys the time I have heard the complaint “so much description! Too many landscapes!” Welcome to high fantasy, nerds.)
Another treat this book delivers is the aforementioned love of books. Morwenna mentions hundreds of sci-fi and fantasy books, enough to make any book loving heart go pitter pat. The LOTR references alone are glorious. And since the book is set in 1979-1980, it’s a snapshot of that time in the genre (plus a mandatory Star Wars mention). Someone on Goodreads had enough foresight to make a list of all the books mentioned in the book. I do love a good book list.
As it’s in journal form, the book recounts a lot of everyday, sometimes mundane activities. But rather than slowing the story down, it makes it very rich in character and setting. Morwenna’s life, rather than her struggle with her mother which is what I was expecting to be the main point of the book, is what’s most important. The plot is secondary to Morwenna’s inner experience and it is totally compelling. I happen to like books like this though so be warned: there’s not a lot of action.
My criticisms are that I wanted more details that showed the seventies as the setting. The only real clue is the books that Morwenna reads. In fact, with the boarding school setting and Morwenna’s sometimes old fashioned voice, I sometimes caught myself imagining the story set in the 1930’s or 40’s. I also think that some of the relationships needed more development. It’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that Morwenna’s twin sister is dead from the beginning of the book. I would have liked to have seen more of an emotional tie to her sister as they were obviously close, and her death triggered some important plot points. The same goes for the romantic relationship. It almost felt like it was shoehorned in at the end and I would have liked to see it developed more fully. But this could also be a byproduct of Morwenna’s personality. All of her connections to people seemed a bit standoffish, which makes sense considering her circumstances.
On the whole, this was a great book. I am definitely going to check out Jo Walton’s other books.
Excitement Level: Gorgeous frolick with the faeries
Disclaimer: I was not paid for this review. I checked this book out from the library and reviewed it on my own impetus.