Iain's Reviews > Among Others

Among Others by Jo Walton
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Jul 28, 2014

it was amazing
Read from July 15 to 26, 2014

I found this book really interesting. It's beautifully written and always engaging. But the thing I find myself thinking about most is the way it slipslides across genres. As a book about a girl who literally plays with fairies and helps them to do magic, this would appear to be a simple fantasy. But the fantasy element, while a core thread to the book, is not actually what the book is about. The fairies and magic are part of Mor but the book is about Mor and she is much more than that one thing. So reading the book, you find yourself in an unusual coming of age novel instead. Mor has lost her twin sister working with the fairies to stop her mother gathering evil powers to herself (don't worry folks, this is not a spoiler, the book literally starts with this information, although rather teasingly the details are never really filled in). She is left broken, both physically and in respect of her identity - now alone, not one that was two. Worse, she is adrift, marooned from the beloved Welsh valleys,country and family that give her strength and love in a posh English boarding school so flat and dreary that magic cannot really find a place. Among Others really just takes us with Mor as she comes to terms with her loss and begins the difficult task of becoming herself.

During this time, Mor's closest companions are her books - her love of science fiction. This is such a great part of the book. As someone who was, growing up, a bit of a fantasy hound, I'm only really now beginning to dip my toes into science fiction, and Mor proves to be a really great companion as she devours books and talks about why she loves or hates them. Like many others thousands, I'm sure, I've taken notes of a few of these and am really looking forward to following some of Mor's reading paths over the next few months! I could imagine that some people might not like this aspect - surely an authorial fangirl voice peeking through the novel to just gush about what she likes? It's certainly not something you see very often in books and might be seen as a little self-indulgent, I suppose. But here, I loved that reading was seen as a doorway to community and connection (hello Goodreads!) rather than just as a solitary internal activity. Thus, her reading, more than her immediate personality, which remains bristly, frightened and distant, provide the key to new connections - to the librarians who care for her, to her little known father into whose custody she has passed, to new friends and the possibility of love. What a treat to see the nerdiest (well, fantasy probably still takes that, but you know what I mean) of genres be treated in such a way!

I suppose the one thing I felt a little let down by was the conclusion, and I think this is probably more the publisher's fault than the author's. The blurb suggests a final confrontation and, yes, there is one! But it's not really a fight or confrontation at all. But even this sort of makes sense in the way the fantastical elements provide a rich and unusual back drop for the story. It is the same here - the confrontation really seems to be more about Mor's own growth and recovery than any typical fantasy power clash. If this hadn't been mentioned in the blurb, I think I would have found the conclusion even stronger. As it is, it left just a slight feeling that the book had petered out rather than actually concluding in a satisfying and appropriate way.

I started the review with a four, but this seems churlish now, so I'm upping it to a five.
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