Among Others by Jo Walton

6 May
This is the first book by Jo Walton I’ve read, even though I’ve heard of her for ages now. I’ve been trying to track down a used copy of her Tooth and Claw but haven’t met with success yet. I snagged a copy of Among Others using my Christmas gift card this year and am so glad I did. Among Others is such a thoughtful, slow-burning, and unique book and it’s really impressed upon me how many shades of feeling and experience fantasy can cover. I think I’ve been focusing too much on one kind of fantasy – the swashbuckling kind – and this slow and meditative examination of girlhood was just what I needed.

Mori is a fifteen-year-old identical twin, but she’s alone. Rather, she’s now alone with a father she’s never known and is being shipped off to a boarding school in England. Mori has recently lost her twin, though we don’t know until close to the end of the book what exactly caused Mor’s death (the twins are named Morwenna and Morganna, I think – I know their full names were used several times but they’re not coming to me right now). Mori practices magic and sees fairies – these are normal, everyday parts of her world – and her mother is an evil witch. We come into Mori’s life immediately after some kind of epic battle between the twins and their mother. They defeated their mother, but the consequences were dire: Mor died during the battle, and Mori’s leg was crippled. Now Mori must navigate her new life alone amongst a family and schoolmates who know nothing of magic and its effects.

I’m not going back to read anyone’s blog posts about this book at the moment, as I want to get my gut feelings out without influence, so I may not be picking up on some of the subtext here. I have to admit, as soon as I finished, I was a little bewildered. I mean, I really liked it, but I wasn’t sure about what the author wanted me to pick up on. As it stands, Among Others is a bit like reading a diary – the reader is following Mori’s diary entries, so we’re getting all of our information straight from her. That being said, I’m always a little suspicious and intrigued when I’m only getting the facts from one source. And, though there is definitely a ton of magical element here, we’re not witness to a lot of description. Mori has grown up with magic, and her matter-of-factly telling the reader she called for a karass (a like-minded community of friends) or set up a protection against her mother is a new spin on the typical flash and bang of magic in fantasy.

In fact, for me, much of the book was focused on Mori’s development, her coming-of-age from a damaged, slightly antisocial young girl to a teenager able to connect with others through books. Mori has a deep and intellectual love of books, and I ADORED her ruminations on reading and specific authors and titles. This book is a fantasy and SF lover’s dream in that it’s just like talking to another bookworm, one who finds emotional safety and intellectual stimulation through reading. Her love of books eventually allows her to connect with others, which in turn lets her begin to move on not only from her sister’s death, but also from that secret bubble of twinhood she had been living in for so long. I am an incurable bibliophile at heart, so I completely identified with her absolute need for reading in her life. It was almost eerie at times – Mori even mentions how When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit impacted her as a child. Um, that is an extremely important book to my own childhood and I’ve never seen it mentioned anywhere else. Spooky.

It seemed to me that the climax at the end of the book happened a little quickly. For the last thirty pages or so, I kept thinking “ok, so when is it all gonna go down?” When the book finished without the pomp and circumstance I had been expecting, I wasn’t sure if I was disappointed or not. But maybe that was the point? Maybe the story was more about Mori’s chance to reconcile magic and her past with her own future, than it was to revel in spells and battles? I’m not sure I’ll figure that out right now, but this book will definitely stick with me.

Can I just end with the moment I raised my fist to Mori and said “hell yeah, girlfriend?” Mori says “The thing about Tolkien, about The Lord of the Rings, is that it’s perfect.” She had me at “perfect.”

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5 Responses to “Among Others by Jo Walton”

  1. cgregory May 7, 2012 at 6:12 am #

    Yes, yes. A good read keeps you turning pages. A *great read leaves you wanting more!

    • Amanda May 7, 2012 at 7:14 am #

      Agreed! It’s been a while since I read such a stimulating book, one that makes me want to explore more. I loved it. 🙂

  2. Rebecca May 9, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    I just mined your old reviews for great Mother’s Day books to get for my mom. Thanks for all the reviews! It made it a lot easier to shop for the woman who wants nothing and will give me zero suggestions.

    • Amanda May 9, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

      Yay, so glad I could help out! I’m curious to know what you picked out for her…

      • Rebecca May 11, 2012 at 5:24 pm #

        I went to the used book store, so I couldn’t find all the authors I was looking for. From your recommendations, I picked two Zoe Archer novels (Rebel and Scoundrel) and a Julia Quinn (Just Like Heaven). I also found a Donna Kauffman (never read her, but it sounded intriguing: The Great Scott) and a Lora Leigh. Mom and I have read all her breed series, and this one is a different type, called Deadly Sin. I think it’s more like soft erotica, which is pretty much what all her novels are like.

        We shall see what Mom thinks.

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