on June 11, 2012
Jo Walton is a gifted writer and storyteller. So expectations were high for this book. In the "Thanks and Notes" section, she references how hard it is for her to write what she knows about. Interviews elsewhere reveal that this novel revisits her own past and transmutes her actual mother's mental illness into the practice of witchcraft. One can feel her struggle coming to terms with her past in this book, which is beautiful and heartfelt but has very little action; it's further marred by an ending that feels too manufactured -- as if she wrote an outcome in fiction she wished had happened in real life.
Her description of fairies -- their powers, their speech, their actions and appearance -- is unique in that it captures the feral quality of entities of earth and nature not particularly interested in human wants and desires. But other aspects of "Among Others" are somewhat lacking.
It's hard to know if Walton wants us to see Mori, the heroine of the tale, as an unreliable narrator; Mori often doubts herself and uses the excuse of "magic" as a means of rationalizing others' behaviors (her aunts won't let her cook in their home and want her to pierce her ears, members of a book club she joins mid-year friend her willingly while her schoolmates scorn her) and seems to distance herself from others as a matter of course.
One thing Walton captures is the intensity (and inanity) of young girls' diaries; her many details make the diary feel real but it can also be tedious to read in parts. Although I am also an avid reader and know many of the books she references, this novel may feel like an inside joke that excludes non-SF readers for those who aren't familiar with the works mentioned.
For me, the biggest failing of the book is that while Mori wishes people could accept her as a person and not see her physical aspect and judge her as a "cripple" first and foremost, she does this repeatedly with a character who enters her life. SPOILER ALERT: Mori's attraction to Wim, and her constant references to him in terms of his physical aspect -- "he's gorgeous" -- seem shallow and inconsistent with an intelligent character who wants to be appreciated for her mind. While she's clearly compatible with Wim in terms of interests, her constant need to refer to his looks would come across as sexist if the tables were turned and she were male and he were female. Her concern that Wim is interested in her only for "the fairies" is never resolved, and the ending -- with Wim, Daniel and Sam appearing at a bus stop after her showdown with her mother -- seems frankly ridiculous. How would Wim have gotten Daniel and Sam there on short notice if the latter two know nothing about magic or Mori's previous battle-to-near-death with her mother? Again, it feels like wishful thinking and the plotting/writing seems to have sprung from the mind of a teenage fantasy-writer wannabe rather than the deft work of a talented writer. (But perhaps that was Walton's intent.)
This is a book to borrow from the library. Walton is to be commended for putting her heart on paper and I feel for her as a person after reading this novel. But judging this book on merit alone...despite its many wonderful moments, as a whole it just doesn't hold together for me.
on February 16, 2011
This is a stunningly wonderful book.
I have never read anything that so perfectly captures the experience of being fifteen, a science fiction reader just discovering some of the greats of the field (not to mention fandom!), the new kid in school who doesn't quite fit in, the young woman just starting to reach for adulthood, and not sure where she fits in a family where no one except her imperfectly known father seems to share her interests and concerns.
Of course, Morwenna's problems are in a whole different league from my own at her age. Morwenna's twin sister was killed in a car accident that left Morwenna crippled. That accident was their witch mother's retaliation for their successful thwarting of her spell intended to make her a Dark Queen. Now Morwenna is dependent on the father she's never met.
On the one hand, Morwenna and her father Daniel bond over their love of science fiction. On the other hand, her aunts, his three sisters, decide that she belongs at Arlinghurst, the same boarding school they attended, so that's where she goes. It's a tough transition for her, a crippled girl among enthusiastic athletes, a Welsh girl amongst mostly upper middle class English girls, an enthusiastic reader amongst students who think reading is only for studying. But she's smart, and determined, and doesn't really see any better alternatives, so she finds ways to cope.
And as she struggles to find her own place, and her own friends, and her own path, she discovers that the threat from her mother is not over. Together with all the normal adolescent challenges, Morwenna also does battle with her mother's hostility and ambitions, the ethics of magic, and the desire and opportunity to be reunited with her sister.
This is a beautifully written book, lovingly and convincingly depicting both adolescent angst and the joys of discovering science fiction and the community of science fiction fandom.
I purchased this book and have received no compensation from the publisher or anyone else for reading and reviewing it.
on December 26, 2012
Well, like another reviewer said, it started slow and never quite picked up. The plot seemed interesting but the execution seemed to be an all too real adolescent's diary. So, unlike an engaging read, I found myself weeding through meaningless chatter and book reviews to find maybe a sentence related to the main plot in maybe 20 pages or so. The side plots were as choppy as a diary and I never felt connected to them or really any other character in the book. The bits of main plot were very interesting but it was frustrating just trying to find it. I wanted to like this book and tried to plow through but pages and pages of high school exam results and who's buying who a honey bun does not make an engaging story in my opinion.
on April 30, 2012
Among Others by Jo Walton, is a book long on promise, but short on delivery. Shortlisted for the Hugo and receiving high praise, perhaps left me with expectations too high.
The basic premise is excellent. 70's schoolgirl who has family issues, highlighted by a crappy mother (who doesn't) AND talks to fairies. We're left waiting fo the magic and the story arc to mix in a fairly violent way.
OH how we wish we had magic to help solve our daily issues, yet for Jo Walton the moral implications of use can be tricky. This is the strong point of the book, as far as the fantasy aspect. There is a great 'system' of magic in use. A combination of druidism and fairy magic that is simple, effective and, most importantly, believable.
The book is really a coming of age story of a teen-age girl, yes she can do magic and yes she can speak to fairies, but that is much background and has little to do with what plot there is. While Mor is shipped off to boarding school, there is no Harry Potter moments here. She is just a kid shipped off to boarding school, reflecting vague attempts to fend off her mother's attacks. Here as in many other places in the novel, we are given an hazy idea of what is happening, but without any great detail or description.
The best part of the book is in the late trend of homaging a genre - like in the films Hugo or The Artist. Jo Walton here gives us a who's who of Sci-Fi, Fantasy via Mor's speed reading capabilities. For me these were the high points, as I was able to wax nostalgic over my reading history. While I may use this as reference for the future, it did not capture me in the story.
Perusing the Amazon reviews, I found what I expected to find, a majority of reviews from woman. This is a coming of age story about a girl, and I think it would have resonated a bit more with me had I been born female. As it was, I was happy to see a bit into the mind of a teenage girl - might help me in my relations!
on March 11, 2011
Among Others is a fun, interesting book, and I sped through it in one day. Looking back though, several flaws detract from what might otherwise have been excellent.
Through her journal entries (which are really just regular first-person narration), this book relates the story of Mori, a Welsh teenager and lover of science fiction who is sent to an upper-class English boarding school after fleeing her abusive mother. Mori doesn't fit in with the other girls and spends the bulk of her time reading, primarily science fiction. She's a sympathetic and relatable character, particularly if you were an odd kid who read a lot; I love the way she talks about the inter-house athletic competitions, for instance, which everyone else takes very seriously and she couldn't care less about. The book is well-written and does a great job of keeping questions in the reader's mind at all times, particularly as Mori takes her time in telling us about her past. And the discussions of class tensions in 1970's England, as well as the trouble readers had to take to find books by their favorite authors before the Internet (we're spoiled nowadays!) were interesting.
A couple of minor SPOILERS follow.
But there are several problems. Most notable (and ironic, since Mori criticizes other books for this) is that the book is just way too pat. Mori forms close bonds almost instantaneously with every other reader she meets (and there are a lot of them, as she joins a book club halfway through); the first guy to catch her eye soon becomes her boyfriend; the last couple pages are almost sickeningly sweet. And then there are all the unanswered questions. One subplot deals with Mori's aunts trying to force her to get her ears pierced, which she believes will stop her from doing magic--but she never discovers their motivation. We never find out what's really behind the aunts' relationship with Mori's father, nor why their father committed suicide, despite hints that this would be important. Etc. We're briefly given a lot of fascinating information about Mori's extended family, but it's never followed up on, some of it never referred to again. I'm not sure why the author dangled so many tantalizing hooks if they were irrelevant to the story at hand.
So the book is worth a read, probably especially if you've read much 1970's science fiction (I haven't, and I don't feel that this detracted from my understanding of the book, but someone who's read most of the books Mori discusses would probably enjoy those parts more). Still, it isn't quite what it could have been. If it had been longer, enough to make Mori work harder to earn her happy ending and to flesh out more of the characters and their stories, I suspect it would have been excellent.
on March 14, 2012
From the blurb on the back cover, we are lead to expect an engaging tale of good and evil in a world of magic. If you're looking for this, skip to the last four pages, because that is all you'll get. Most of the book is filled with angsty recollections by a teenager caught in a (mildly) unpleasant situation, and pages and pages and *pages* of tepid one-line reviews of every golden-age sci fi and fantasy writer. I don't know why I read this book to the end--it kept promising something interesting, but never delivered. Don't waste your time: take the author's advice and read some LeGuin instead.
on January 22, 2011
This is a wonderful novel. I fell in love with the voice, which reminded me of Dodie Smith's "I Capture the Castle". It's a precocious 15 year old's journal, as she navigates the confusions of adolescence, darkened by her sister's death. She's lost her home with her extended family in Wales, and is living in an English girl's boarding school, with holidays at her father's house -- the father that she just met for the first time. Her world includes fairies, and magic, and Walton does an amazing job of making that both believable, and at the same time making it feasible for it to be all in Mori's imagination. Mori is confident and analytical. She turns that analysis on herself, what she sees around her, and the books she reads. That logical analysis can be quite funny, as she tries to make sense of the scoring system and rules in her new boarding school and family.
She adores books, especially SF and fantasy. This book is a love letter to librarians, to interlibrary loan, and to SF fandom. She mentions all the books she's reading, with wonderful comments on them. It conjures up the wonder of discovering books as a child, if you were one of those kids. While many of the books she mentions are SF or fantasy, not all are. Others that come up include Josephine Tey, Mary Renault, Plato, Shakespeare, and T. S. Eliot. She is thoroughly steeped in SF, though. When she has nightmares, and wakes up terrified, she uses the litany against fear from Dune, and it works.
on September 12, 2012
The sample chapter of this book was so compelling I could not wait to download it to my Kindle and start reading. Unfortunately, the sample chapter was probably the best chapter in the whole book. From there on, it devolved into a rambling journal about books and authors and more books and authors and an occasional plot element, and more books and authors. The final chapters were back up to the level of the sample.
I wish that instead of giving a "shout out" to every science fiction book and author she'd ever read, that Jo Walton had concentrated on the story of the main character, her early childhood, her interaction with the fairies, her confrontation with the forces of evil, her dealing with the loss of her twin. I wanted to know more about the story of her life, not every book she ever read. Instead of being a part of the story, the bibliography took over and became the story.
Every time it would start to get interesting again, she'd go right back into listing book after book after book. I realize this was the way the main character dealt with her losses and the way she connected to her new "karass," but it just got tedious after awhile. If one were to snip out all the mentions of books and authors and include just the plot elements, this might have made an almost interesting short story, perhaps a novella. If one were to replace all the mentions of books and authors with details about her early life and her battles against the forces of evil, it would have made it the awesome book I was expecting.
I was so disappointed! She could have let us know the importance of books to her story without turning the whole book into a bibliography. In fact, I wish there had been an actual bibliography at the end listing all the books the main character liked.
In the end, I still enjoyed the book I read, but I longed for the book I thought I was going to read.
on September 13, 2012
I have no idea why there are so many positive reviews about this book.
It is lacking in any substantial plot points, conflict, and character development. The entire book is filled with references to other sci fi and fantasy novels, just listed incessantly, with no real significance to the novel other than to point out that the main character has read them. Nothing insightful is ever mentioned about the books, nor do they typically draw parallels to her own situation. The universe and concept of the structure of magic is nothing novel, nor is the writing style a work of art.
Please read the review by Jacob Glicklich "Raskolnikov". It does a wonderful job of describing the faults in this novel.
on September 13, 2012
Essentially this is a fiction about a young girl's school experience in good old England. That's the vast majority of this book. If you like such things (and it's not badly done), that's fine. But it isn't science fiction. It's barely even fantasy; the McGuffin of magic and fairies takes up an extremely small proportion of the writing. Lastly, there is a semi-masturbatory enumerating of sci-fi classics that reads more like a bibliography than anything else.
I did appreciate the fresh take on magic as something that is essentially indistinguishable from chance, although this conceit is betrayed at the end of the book when magic suddenly becomes very much distinguishable from chance (I found the betrayal of the central conceit jarring and inconsistent, although it did finally liven things up from the somewhat turgid pace of the rest of the book.) At least I could finish this book, unlike the previous Hugo winner Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel, which I gave up on at page 150 because absolutely nothing seemed to be happening. Well, back to China Mieville and Iain Banks.