Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Among Others

I apologize in advance: this is a bit of a rambly review because I'm rather overtired and it's really hard to collect my thoughts regarding this book.

I bought Jo Walton's Among Others when I was out of town.  I have never read anything by Walton before, but I was intrigued by the premise of Among Others.  The fact that it also won both a Hugo and a Nebula really helped my decision to buy it, too.  The back of the book makes it sound like it's going to be a really fun, magical adventure, with fairies and magic and magical battles.

While it is true that there are fairies and magic and magical battles, Among Others never really did seem to deliver on the "fun" part that I was looking forward to.

Among Others follows Morwenna Phelps.  She has run away from her old life to her father, who she doesn't really know.  Her father lives with his three sisters, who end up sending her to an English boarding school.  Mori's mother had tried to bend the faeries to her dark will, which resulted in a magical battle that left Mori's twin sister dead and Mori crippled.  That's why she ran away from Wales.

We never get to read the actual details of this magical battle.  We just get little bits and pieces of it in Mori's journal (which is how the entire novel is told - through her journal).  What we do get is an exhaustive list of all the science fiction books Mori reads (and how almost every one of them are "brill"). Because Mori is crippled, she spends most of her time reading. Someone on Goodreads was kind enough to put together this list of books mentioned in Among Others (which is about as long as the books I currently have on The List).  Needless to say, there are a lot of books mentioned, most of which I have never read. 

Mori starts receiving letters from her mother, which burn with evil intent (and magic).  In a bit of desperation, she works some protective magic against her, while also wishing for a karass (which basically was her group of similar-minded people).  The next day she finds a science fiction book group, which includes the very beautiful Wim.  She finds herself attracted to him, but worries for a large part of the book that Wim's attraction to her is only thanks to the magic she enacted.

Mori also sees fairies, as the premise promised.  But they are very alien beings who do not speak or act the way Mori wishes they would (aka the way they do in her stories).  When she was younger, she used to play with the fairies with her sister.  From time to time the fairies would ask the twins to do things for them because the fairies cannot influence the physical world.  As Mori has aged, the fairies still ask things of her, and she rushes to help them (especially when it involves stopping her mother's plans).  But most of the fairies she sees are in England, who are not at all interested in talking to her.  Only when she's in Wales and able to speak to the ones she knows well (specifically the one she called Glorfindel - fairies don't have names, so she and her sister named him) do we get a really good sense of what they're like (or what her childhood was like).

I'd like to mention, she had a moment where she almost passed onto the next life, but Glorifindel stopped her by reminding her that she was only half finished her book.  She literally decided to stay to finish the book (and keep reading others).

And that's as good a spot as any to bring me to the weirdness of this book.  As many reviewers on Goodreads have said, this book takes place after the climax of the story.  Mori is having to move on with her life after the epic battle where she saved the world, but lost her sister in the process. It's a very odd place for a story to start (almost everyone tells you to start in the middle - I've never heard of anyone starting once it was over, so to speak).

As I already mentioned, Among Others is told through Mori's journal.  It took me a bit to pick up on this originally (I thought the dates were just day markers denoting chapter changes at first; but near the beginning they skip ahead and she says she didn't have much time to write in there.  That's when I clued in). It gave Mori a very strong sense of voice, but also made the book rather tedious in the middle.  Not only that, it made the end of the book quite abrupt.  In the last twenty pages of the book, her mother finally shows up and they battle again.  This is explained after the fact and really, really glossed over by Mori; in many ways the book just sort of ends.  It was weird.

While it's an interesting premise (and very clearly a love letter to science fiction, libraries, and the interlibrary loan system), I felt that the book's story was rather bogged down.  I wonder if I would feel that way though if I had read more of the books on her list? It's really hard to say.

So all in all, I really liked Mori.  But this was a very odd book in many, many ways.  I had a hard time rating it on Goodreads as a result.

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