“Among Others” by Jo Walton

“Among Others” by Jo WaltonAmong Others by Jo Walton
Published: 2011 by Tor
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 302
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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Over the past few months, many of you have recommended that I read “Among Others” by Jo Walton, both because of the magical and ethereal atmosphere and the numerous references to science fiction and fantasy novels.  I borrowed a copy from the library and loved it every bit as much as you all said that I would!

The story is set largely in a boarding school, which made me reminisce about the books of my childhood.  Stories like A Little Princess, Jane Eyre, and even Harry Potter captivated my imagination, and to this day I associate boarding schools with a vaguely sinister sense of magic and wonder.

The protagonist is a teenage girl named Mori.  Her mother is a witch, and she talks to fairies, but it isn’t what you’d expect.  The story takes a slow and meandering pace, mostly focusing on Mori’s struggles to fit in with her peers and her daily trials and tribulations.  She feels like she’s an outsider, and takes solace in reading the classics of science fiction and fantasy.

Think of this as a memoir.  Think of it as one of those memoirs that’s later discredited to everyone’s horror because the writer lied and is revealed to be a different colour, gender, class, and creed from the way they’d made everybody think.  I have the opposite problem.  I have to keep fighting to stop making myself sound more normal.  Fiction’s nice.  Fiction lets you select and simplify.  This isn’t a nice story, and this isn’t an easy story.  But it is a story about fairies, so feel free to think of it as a fairy story.  It’s not like you’d believe it anyway.

The real magic of “Among Others,” to me, is that Mori reminded me of my own teenage self.  She would have been a kindred spirit.  Of course, I gravitated to philosophy rather than sci-fi at the time, and spent my afternoons in the company of Locke, Hume, and Rousseau, but the sentiment remains the same.  Many of you probably had similar experiences, and like Mori, used books as a form of escapism to survive your teenage years.  The fairies take a backseat to this overarching theme, but that’s okay, and I wouldn’t have wanted the story to play out in any other way.

One of the things that I enjoyed here was the way that Jo Walton describes magic.  It’s a subtle idea, and is treated as the causative force behind coincidences.  At several points in the story, I wondered if it was all simply in Mori’s head, and that she was inventing the fairies to reconcile herself with a difficult childhood.  I changed my mind as the novel progressed, but the fact that magic seemed so normal and almost dismissible made it even more special to me.  It makes you feel bad for the people who are unable to recognize it.

As a brief forewarning, “Among Others” is the kind of book that will make you want to read more books.  Be prepared for that.  It will make you want to spend your evenings curled up with Silverberg, LeGuin, or Zelanzy.

I would recommend this to you if you spent your childhood exploring the worlds found within books.  It’s not for everyone, obviously, but I get the feeling that most of you reading this are the type of people who would love it.

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I read this as part of the Award Winning Books Challenge, as “Among Others” won a well-deserved Hugo award several weeks ago.

Comments make me happy! Please feel free to leave a reply.

31 comments

  1. My favorite kind of fantasy is the kind where all the magic and fantastical elements are there in the background, while the story of personalities and characters play out as the main focus. This book sounds absolutely lovely. Even just reading your description of it had me transported back to all those books that left me wide-eyed and wondering at the magic of the world, Grace. Very cool.

    1. Mori reminded me a lot of Anne Shirley. I think that’s why she resonated with me so very well. I think you’d definitely enjoy it.

      Btw, I should be reviewing Bowlful of Bunnies sometime soon, if you’re still interested in doing a guest post. It’s been a hectic past few weeks. 😀

    1. I’ve never read any Zelanzy, but he’s now on my list for my next used bookstore order based on the way that Mori describes his writing. This book made my TBR pile multiply rather rapidly… 😀

  2. I’ve been wanting to read that book ever since I read the description of a girl that finds her way through books in her lonely moments…which also reminded of me. Now for sure I will look for it at my local library!. Thanks!

  3. It does make the wish list grow exponentially. 🙂
    I really liked it, liked the sentiment. I was like that too but didn’t read sci-fi at that age either. More very lieraray books, Joyce, Proust… I also enjoyed the understated way magic was treated.

    1. It was subtle enough to make it seem like magic could be present in our own world, and that was such a lovely touch. I didn’t get into SF/F until the past year or two, but I think I’ve been doing a decent job at making up for lost time. 🙂

  4. As a brief forewarning, “Among Others” is the kind of book that will make you want to read more books. Be prepared for that. It will make you want to spend your evenings curled up with Silverberg, LeGuin, or Zelanzy.

    Truest words ever. This book gave me the worst craving for classic SF. Alas, I didn’t have too much luck sating it; I don’t think I read much beyond one Isaac Asimov.

    1. I ended up buying several books already because of this one, and I’m impatiently waiting for them to come in the mail. Now I’ll just have to find a balance between old SF and new. 🙂

  5. another high recommendation!! not that I have a strong background in fantasy/sci-fi (making up for it though), but the husband does and I think this would be a fun one to read together.
    sounds like it will provide a good reading list for the daughter who is very much interested in fantasy, and sci-fi.

    great review.

    1. Thanks! I didn’t start getting into SF/F until the past year or two, so I got some great recommendations just from reading this one. It was so neat though because it reminded me of back when I was much more socially awkward and spent all my time buried in books. I’m jealous of Mori though because she got a book club and I never did. 😀

  6. Oh I love the idea of a book that reminds me of that escaping in books when I was a teen. This one is downloaded and I hope to get to it sometime too. Since it won the Hugo this year I’ve had my eye on it.

    1. Mhm. I had expected the pacing to be a bit faster, but while reading it, I realized that that would probably have ruined the nostalgia trip. It’s quite good. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂