Among Others

By Jo Walton

Book Cover: Among OthersKinsey introduced me to Jo Walton through her Small Change series, which is actually pretty brilliantly titled, now that I think about it. The three books, titled Farthing, Ha’penny, and Half a Crown, are solidly written English murder mysteries with the added brilliance of being set in an alternate history in the 1930s and 40s in which England supported the German Nazi Party (which is not all that improbable: if not for Wallis Simpson, Edward, a known nazi sympathizer, might have stayed on the throne). Anyway, the mysteries themselves are intriguing, but it is the setting and characters that really make those books shine.

When I ran across several (very favorable) reviews for her new book, Among Others, I added it to my to-read list immediately. It was described in the reviews as a coming-of-age story set in a world of magic and fairies, and I was so there! It…isn’t exactly that. I still really, really liked it, but the magic is very much in the background, an alternate setting like in the Small Change series. It follows a teenage girl from Wales recovering from personal tragedy while attending a very British preparatory school, and on occasion she confers with local fairies for advice. The magic of the world is utilized very effectively as a way to look at the world around you and make decisions for the direction of your life. I quickly got over any disappointment in the marginalized fantasy because once again, the characters and settings were completely engaging.

I’ve insisted that Rebecca read it next because I think she’ll appreciate the one aspect of the book that I found a bit alienating. Very minor spoiler: Mori, the heroine, finds comfort and friendship in a SF book club held at her local library. Much of Among Others is a love letter to the genre of science fiction and all the great authors that founded the genre. I’m not much of a SF reader, though; I had only read a few books by the authors mentioned, and I had liked even less. (The book is set in 1979, so I kept having to bite my tongue against criticism over the omission of more recent authors.) The heroine and the club are very sniffy about people who don’t like science fiction, and the book does such a good job of carrying that feeling through in the writing that I felt the alienation a bit as a reader.

—Anna

8 comments on “Among Others

  1. Kinsey says:

    Ooh, now I want to read this! I haven’t read much of the classic science fiction cannon either (my life is too short to read any Heinlein), so I’ll just let that flow by, but the rest sounds great. Also, what a good cover!

    • Anna says:

      Actually, I don’t think there was any reference to Heinlein, either, since he’s one of the few early science fiction authors I have read. Rebecca and I guessed that since it is set in Wales and England in 1979, the authors might be predominately British ones, or at least the ones we didn’t know. We thought it might be the books that Jo Walton herself had grown up with.

      You know, it has a leisurely enough pace, too, that I think it would be a good vacation book, as well.

      • Rebecca says:

        Oh, there were references to Heinlein all right. Mor and Wim have a fight about him and then Wim and Daniel also disagree. (Mor and Daniel like him, Wim does not.)

        • Anna says:

          Oh, right! I forgot about that argument! I was on Mor’s side, sort of, in that Heinlein isn’t really a fascist, but he’s more just a dick a lot of the time.

  2. kaseygiard says:

    Aww that sounds really cool! Must add to my reading list. I’m more of an experimentalist than a connoisseur when it comes to sci-fi, but I’m game. 🙂 Thanks for the review.

    • Anna says:

      Definitely let me know what you think once you’ve read it! Rebecca is reading it right now, and I’m very curious as to whether she has a different experience with it as a more sci-fi connoisseur than me.

  3. Rebecca says:

    I just finished this, and I’m still trying to figure out what I think. I enjoyed it, yes, but it really read more like a character study than a plot arc. The climactic scene was kind of tacked on at the end without any real weight to it. The part I really liked was the way the magic worked. That is both very cool and makes it all very believable.

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