“Among Others” by Jo Walton

I read this book in January, and this review comes almost verbatim from my Goodreads review (since I actually reviewed it properly there, for once), although I’ve expanded and elaborated somewhat. It’s also going to be a fairly short review. That makes a change from my usual 1000-word essays.

among othersThis book is a bizarre combination of a 70s boarding school novel written as diary entries and a fantasy novel with fairies and magic — and yet somehow, impossibly, it worked. The juxtaposition of genres made the book unpredictable and also utterly unlike anything else I’ve read.

At times, it was a bit confusing. The backstory of the character’s situation is as much revealed in the blurb as within the text of the novel: One day, Mori and her mother fight a powerful, magical battle that kills her sister and leaves Mori crippled. It’s only as the novel comes to a close that we really feel any closer to knowing the details, and there’s plenty left unsaid with unanswered questions everywhere. At the same time, that adds to the realism of the diary style. Mori, the protagonist, would be unlikely to dwell on something so upsetting … not to mention the fact that she wouldn’t need to tell herself what had happened, given that she knows.

She reads continuously, something I can identify with. I’ve never been quite as prolific a reader as she is, mostly because I live in an age of computers and therefore there are infinite distractions; I’m also not disabled enough to have got out of sport and therefore to have had extra reading time, though much I may wish that had been the case. And, of course, being older than her I’ve had less time and more work.

“Interlibrary loans are a wonder of the world and a glory of civilization.”

Nevertheless, her love of interlibrary loans resonated deeply. Ah, how I love thee. (I used to constantly reserve books, before I hit eighteen and they made you pay for that kind of thing.)

She talks a lot about the books she’s reading, using them to relate to the world around her and sometimes coming out with fairly philosophical remarks about the nature of humanity as a result of her love of SF. I’d read some of the books, helping me to understand her comments, though it was harder to make sense of others when I had no experience of the novels themselves. I treated them basically as book recommendations, and tried a few of them for myself when I’d finished with this one.

“One of the things I’ve always liked about science fiction is the way it makes you think about things, and look at things from angles you’d never have thought about before.”

It was an intriguing, odd book. Magic is simply a part of the character’s life, and it’s not something she questions, even though she understands that others won’t believe in it. Unlike other urban fantasy, it’s not so much a discovery of a world of magic as an acceptance that it’s always been there. Yet urban fantasy it could be called, given that there’s no magical world: these fairies occupy the same planet as we do.

The school setting is at odds with Mori’s talk of fairies and magic, and one minute she’s talking about how she’s going to get to book club that week, while the next she’s worrying about being tracked down or getting caught up with fairies all over again. Like I said, it makes for an unpredictable novel, but something utterly original.

I was reading it until long past midnight. My only complaint about the book itself would be the confusing nature of the narrative at the beginning: it reads a little like a sequel, and I kept having to check that I hadn’t arrived in the middle of a series, since that happens to me far too often. Nope, I was just being dumb and demanding explanations that Mori didn’t want to give. Fine.

It’s definitely a very unusual book, but for my fellow booklovers — particularly enthusiastic readers of SF — I’d definitely recommend it, simply for how infinitely relatable Mori is as a character.

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

Amen to that.

It’s getting four stars from me. I enjoyed it, and I’ve recommended it to a number of people since. I haven’t yet tracked down anything else by the author, but maybe I will some time.

Rating: ****



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