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Among Others by Jo Walton
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's review
Feb 21, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: fantasy-paranormal
Recommended to Alice by: Amazon
Recommended for: SF nerds and nerdy YA geeks.
Read in February, 2012

** spoiler alert ** I loved this book. I am surprised people thought it was boring or slow-moving, because I enjoyed the pacing: often my life is spaced out by books, too, and I liked the simple rhythm of Mori's life. School, books, bookstores, libraries. I did wish I had read more of the 1970s SF that is referenced in the book, but I don't think my enjoyment was hampered. I always like geeky girl protagonists, I love books about books, and I loved how the disability was handled so matter-of-factly. And with those pleasantries out of the way, let's get to the reason I marked this review with spoilers: Burning questions I must talk about:

1) Her leg in traction: Seemed obvious to me that this was a result of magic (most probably by the aunts, I thought), but Mor doesn't even mention it.

2) Wim: Seemed shady to me. The first time she showed him the fairies, I got a very bad vibe. And then later he turns into Perfect Boy. I like that the main character got the guy, but it doesn't seem very realistic that an extremely hot 17 year old would go for a self-professed unattractive girl. I mean, dudes that age are not very good at seeing past the shallow (and I can't say I've found that super hot guys in their 20s and 30s are either). Which bothers me a little, because I read a negative review that said Mor is just a Jo Walton Mary Sue, and she wanted to get the guy. This all makes much more sense if Wim has more complicated motives.

3) Ambiguous narrator: I read so much fantasy/SF that I accepted the magical elements of the book without question, and it wasn't until much later that I began to doubt this. Mor is certainly not a reliable narrator. Some of this is her charming naivete, but often her take on things is written as so absolutely clear (of course it is, she's 15 and it's her own diary) when there is a great deal of doubt. It seems quite odd that her entire family is unwilling to intervene in her situation with her mother. (I was also annoyed that nobody reached out to counsel her about the loss of her sister, but that may be a function of the time/place). I mean, I don't doubt that her mom is malevolent and unstable. And perhaps the power of denial, along with the stigma against mental health problems, contributes to this. But by the end I did begin to wonder whether her sister died as a result of the magical battle with her mother, or was hit by a car in a very normal, but tragic of course, event. Mor even alludes to this at one point, that the car accident was really a side effect of her confusion as a result of the magical illusions sent by her mother. I suspect all this ambiguity is intentional by the author.

4) Twin-switching: WHY did Mor and Mori switch places? Because we don't know the back story, I can't think of any reason to do this. (I was fine without the back story; I like finding out what happened after the battle. It reminded me of the end of Mockingjay.)

5) Aunts as witches: Again unclear. And I want to know what their motivation is.

6) Ending: This was the weakest part of the book. The idea that Daniel, Sam and Wim would all show up seconds after the magical battle was.. not very realistic. I am extremely curious if Walton is going to write a sequel. I am of two minds. If she doesn't, the book remains deliciously ambiguous and readers can argue about it for years to come. If she does, we get answers to all these burning questions, but there's the possibility it won't be as good as the first, which would be a great shame.


EDITED TO ADD: From an interview with Jo Walton:

ST: Is it important to be conscious of a genre as you're reading a book? As I was sorting out what was "real" and what was not in Among Others, I realized that the answer would determine how I would characterize the book: If the fairies are real, then I'm reading SF. If they are a mental construct of a traumatized girl, then I'm reading a family drama.

JW: I think it is important, which is one of the reasons why I started right away with the section at the Phurnacite, which establishes that there is magic and how it works. It never crossed my mind that people would doubt the magic. I've read reviews that say I was keeping it deliberately ambiguous — in my mind it was unquestionably fantasy. I did the magic that way because this was supposed to be set in the real world, and hello, no magic here! So the magic had to have plausible deniability. I hate books where there's all this magic in the real world and it doesn't change anything and there's no explanation for why not. It's a betrayal of both magic and the world.

... so. No ambiguity.

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Stephanie It surprises me to read that no ambiguity was intended in the magic, etc. I didn't believe it at alll, I thought it was Mori using it as something to help her deal with her loss and pain and undiagnosed PTSD or similar.

Alice Stephanie / seenonflickr wrote: "It surprises me to read that no ambiguity was intended in the magic, etc. I didn't believe it at alll, I thought it was Mori using it as something to help her deal with her loss and pain and undiag..."

It surprises me too and I have to say I'm a bit disappointed; I was enjoying puzzling out the various clues until I read that interview.

Stephanie We were discussing this at the ChickLit forums, if you're interested:

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