Among Others

Jo Walton
Winner of the 2011 Nebula Award for Best NovelWinner of the 2012 Hugo Award for Best NovelStartling, unusual, and yet irresistably readable, Among Others is at once the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled--and her twin sister dead. Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England–a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off… Combining elements of autobiography with flights of imagination in the manner of novels like Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude, this is potentially a breakout book for an author whose genius has already been hailed by peers like Kelly Link, Sarah Weinman, and Ursula K. Le Guin. One of School Library Journal’s Best Adult Books 4 Teens titles of 2011 One of io9's best Science Fiction & Fantasy books of the year 2011

Reviews

Reviewed: 2016-06-02
People tell you to write what you know, but I've found that writing what you know is much harder than making it up. It's easier to research a historical period than your own life, and it's much easier to deal with things that have a little less emotional weight and where you have a little more detachment. It's terrible advice! So this is why you'll find there's no such place as the Welsh valleys, no coal under them, and no red buses running up and down them; there never was such a year as 1979, no such age as fifteen, and no such planet as Earth. The fairies are real, though.
-Jo Walton

Man, I hate it when this happens. Picked this up at the library because it was there. The writing is as phenomenal as you've heard if you follow SFF in general. The family relationships are quite remarkable. The narrator is not a nice girl. The love letter to SFF is really, deeply endearing. (Also, having missed some of the books mentioned is no detriment to the accessibility; I feared it would be, as I actively avoided the science fiction side of SFF when I was younger.) I loved the magical realism elements, the suggestions that there is always more to this story than Mor is telling us. (The book manages to play the 'Can we trust our narrator?' game without ruining the reader's rapport with the story.) The ache of Mor's loss from the very beginning is palpable and rings beautifully through the whole tale. I really liked the 'I saved the world. Now what?' perspective. This is a story about learning to live after, when happily and ever may be nowhere in the picture. The ending is nigh perfect.

So, three stars? I'm not sure what exactly went wrong here. The journal form does introduce quite a bit of emotional distance in the story. (That doesn't normally bother me; I love epistolary works.) I do hate school stories, but this did an admirable job of not fixating on the teen vs. teen dramas; it moved in a balanced fashion among Mor's school troubles, her broken family, her independent explorations, and the past. I also hate teen romance, and the romantic interest here was boring, trite, and recycled, which made it stick out like a sore thumb in such a remarkably original work, especially coming late in the story. But it is really just one more exploration for Mor and a natural progression of her thinking on the matter, and probably is not True Love. It doesn't override her voice, which is nice in YA.. I was reading it a little bit rushed and a lot tired, so that may be it. Overall though, I think it is actually the fantasy element that is bothering me. Not the details of it; those were also brilliant. The overarching battle against Liz somehow left something wanting. I am trying to ponder what that is, exactly.

I do believe I will be back to this one soonish. I'd like to read it at a more leisurely pace next time. Having had more sleep. Perhaps after I've spent some time with this nice Listopia. I definitely recommend anyone thinking about it give this a try. And I will absolutely be reading from the rest of Walton's back list. This woman has talent.

ETA: Original review date 2/22/16
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