By Jo Walton
Kinsey 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.