Book Review: Among Others
By: Jo Walton
Published By: Tor Books
Publication Date: January 18, 2011
Page Count: 302
Audience: Adult - Magical Realism, Science Fiction
Morwenna grew up in the Welsh countryside with her twin sister Morganna playing fantasy games and talking with fairies, relating to the world through the science fiction and fantasy books they read. After the accident that killed her sister, Morwenna’s estranged father is given custody of her by the courts and, through the generosity of his sisters, Morwenna goes to boarding school nearby. She can’t play sports with the other girls because of her injured leg, and they don’t want her anyway with her “low class” Welsh accent and strange ways.
When you’re a fan of science fiction and fantasy and you find a book with gushing cover blurbs by such diverse authors as Cory Doctorow, Robin Hobb, and Patrick Rothfuss, and said book won both a Hugo and a Nebula award, you are pretty much required to read it to see what the fuss is about. Reading Among Others was an incredibly nostalgic experience for me. I read so many of the same books as Morwenna around the same time in my life, and had the same challenges in making lasting friendships (though for different reasons).
Among Others is a sweetly magical testament to the influence books can have in our lives. Morwenna’s one connection with the stranger who is her father is through their shared interest in books. Her refuge during the long school days is in books. When she works her magic to make friends, it should be no surprise that they come in the form of a sci-fi/fantasy book club. I don’t think it’s too much to say that books almost create the world in which Morwenna lives. Thomas Jefferson, Mr. I-cannot-live-without-books, has nothing on her.
My one concern is that I don’t know how well Among Others reads if you have no interest in or experience with SF/fantasy. I would still be a likeable book, though I don’t know if it would strike all the same chords on your heartstrings. But if you are someone who grew up on the social fringe reading SF/fantasy, you will adore this book.
Startling, 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.