Title: Among Others
Author: Jo Walton
Genre: Fantasy, Fairies
Publication Date: January 18th, 2011
Publisher: Tor Books
Startling, unusual, and yet irresistibly 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…
Why did I read this book? Ever since seeing this book pile on the awards and knowing that the love of books wa instilled in it, I wanted to read it. I finally dove in when I found myself in a reading slump.
Among Others has already won many awards, including the Hugo and Nebula award for Best Novel and it’s not hard to see why. It’s an engrossing story and a love letter to SF fandom. The story is pretty simple: it’s about Morwenna, a fifteen year old girl who’s run away from her insane mother to live with her estranged father and his three sisters. They sent her to boarding school where she spends most of her time reading science fiction and fantasy novels while writing down her daily experiences (this is what we end up reading). To Mori, tragedy has struck, when not long before had her twin sister Mori (short for Morganna) been killed in a horrible accident and she herself was crippled. Oh, and Mori regularly sees fairies, especially at her home in Wales and occasionally does some magic for protection from her evil mother.
This novel is more about atmosphere, Morwenna’s life and thoughts, magic, and the love of books. What kept me turning the page wasn’t a fast-paced plot but Morwenna’s unflinching love for SF/F, her wit and the hope that she is able to work through her demons. Some of my favourite passages were about books and libraries, for example on page 59:
Libraries really are wonderful. They’re better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts.
It’s really amazing how many SF/F novels Walton references in this text. Dozens, at least. I haven’t even read them all, but it doesn’t matter, if you love books and reading you can relate to Mori’s love of them. I want to go back and note down all the novels she mentions and then read them all so I can share in her excitement.
The other side of Among Others is the one based in fantasy. Mori talks naturally about fairies which are creatures she sees with ease and sometimes communicates. She also performs some magic, which has effects like bringing her friends or causing other things to happen. However, you always wonder if this is magic at all and not just coincidences. Sometimes you feel like Morwenna is using this magical world as her crutch (whenever something good or bad happens, she thinks it’s magic causing it and may or may not trust in it). She even ascribes her sister’s death to magic, or magic gone wrong. I actually liked the ambiguity and freedom to choose yourself what you thought was real.
All in all, I heartily enjoyed Among Others. I wanted to read this because of the nod to SF fandom and to get me out of a reading slump and in many ways it succeeded. The only downside is there isn’t much of a plot and much of the action has taken place before we start Mori’s writings. I definitely recommend this for fans of the genre.