“The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic” by Emily Croy Barker

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

“The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic” by Emily Croy BarkerThe Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker
Published: 2013 by Pamela Dorman
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 563
Format: Hardcover
Source: the publisher
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Nora Fischer fails at life.  Her thesis is at a standstill because she can’t apply herself enough to write anything worthwhile.  Her boyfriend visits her, only to reveal that he’s getting married to another woman.  Everything’s falling apart, and Nora isn’t quite sure what to do with herself or how to react.

One day, Nora goes wandering into the woods and accidentally stumbles through a portal into another world.  There she meets Ilissa, a fae creature who promises a life filled with glamor and decadence.  Nora quite literally drinks the kool-aid, at which point she falls under Ilisa’s spell.  She’s completely brainwashed, and Nora doesn’t have a clue what’s happening to her, or why she’s getting married to Ilissa’s son.

Enter Arundiel, a crotchety old wizard who is basically Snape.  He doesn’t pull any punches, and he warns Nora what she’s gotten herself into.  At first, Nora doesn’t want to believe she’s been duped, especially since she’s so happy living in Ilissa’s make-believe world where she’s drop-dead gorgeous and gets attention from Ilissa’s son.  Even when she starts to realize that something seems off, she dismisses her instincts and goes back to la la land.  Eventually Nora sees reason, and summons Arundiel for help.  Arundiel’s had a bad experience with Ilissa before, and so he rescues Nora just to piss her off.  Once she’s free of Ilissa, Nora begins to wake up to the reality that she’s trapped in a different world that’s completely unfamiliar.

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic is around 560 pages and not particularly fast-paced, but I didn’t mind that, because the story itself was engaging.  There were some parts near the middle of the book where I wanted to see more action and less day-to-day life, but I was never in any danger of getting bored and putting the book down.  It’s the sort of book where you feel like you meander through the story at a leisurely pace rather than rushing from point A to point B.

One of the things I love about Nora’s character is that she’s so imperfect.  She lacks ambition, acts like a victim, and is a total ditz.  And it’s not that she isn’t smart; she’s crazy intelligent, but has no life skills.  She’s one of those people who wonders why her life is a mess but doesn’t apply herself to make it better.  And yet, Nora grows as a person throughout the course of the book.  She comes to the realization that she’s stuck in magicland indefinitely, and even though the obstacles she faces seem insurmountable, she starts to make the best of it.  There are a lot of adjustments to make; Nora goes from her rather privileged life in academia to a fantasy world where women have no rights and most people are illiterate.  The fact that Nora is so tenacious (and perhaps a bit dense) means that she doesn’t just accept a woman’s role within society, but fights to carve out a niche of her own.  She doesn’t take no for an answer and convinces Arundiel to teach her the basics of magic, even though it takes time for him to get past his own prejudices and assumptions about her abilities.

And of course, I can’t write this review without mentioning Hirizjahkinis, my favorite character in the book.  Hirizjahkinis is a black lesbian sorceress with a pet demon kitty, and she’s so much fun to read about.  She serves as a role model for Nora because she’s used her intelligence and power to win the respect of Arundiel and of the magical community at large, even though she’s unconventional within this society.  She accepts herself for who she is, and she doesn’t take herself too seriously (one of Arundiel’s bad habits).

I enjoyed The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, and would definitely recommend it.  Emily Croy Barker creates an alternate world filled with beauty, danger, and magic, and I hope that the sequel comes soon!

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