Jo Walton’s Among Others, set in late 1970s Wales, is the story of Morwenna (Mori for short), a fourteen year-old girl with the ability to see fairies and perform magic. She recently lost her twin sister in a fight they were both involved in to save themselves, and possibly the world, from their insane mother. Having run away from home after this, she eventually finds her way to her biological father’s house, where he, along with his three sisters, sends her away to boarding school for reasons that she doesn’t quite understand.
While there, she does her best to cope with day-to-day life, finding solace in science-fiction books but still feeling pangs of loneliness. In her desperation she does a bit of magic, creating a karass to bring her friends. It’s successful and she finds some of happiness in the local science-fiction book club and with another few outcasts at her school. Despite this, however, she’s not able to completely push aside the troubling thoughts of her past and the consequences it may have on her future.
A magic system that makes you think
In Among Others, the concept of magic is approached in an innovative way not seen before. When magic is performed, it doesn’t mean that something is created out of nothing as seen in most novels. Magic is a means to alter the past in a way that suits your wishes. For example, had Mori never performed the magic to give herself friends, the book club might never have existed. The people who work at the library might not have existed to create the book club. The people she befriends at school might never have been born. Essentially, because Mori did that bit of magic, there’s the possibility that she created all of those things herself to suit her needs.
This is an obviously an incredibly deep way of thinking, and it takes you awhile to wrap your head around what it means and all of the possibilities and consequences that sprout from it. Mori has to constantly worry about whether or not her seemingly meaningless actions are the product of someone else’s magic in the future, or whether or not her very existence is the product of someone else’s magic. It is truly a daunting thought, and one that I’ll be pondering for quite some time.
A unique style of writing
This story is told through Mori’s diary entries, and it does seem like the diary of a fourteen-year-old girl, even though she has the ability to see fairies and do magic. Mori has to deal with things that every fourteen-year-old has to deal with, and I’m glad that the fantasy aspects of the novel didn’t detract from that. There were quite a few moments when I felt bogged down with information—a few pages of family ancestry that play no real part in the novel come to mind—and it was difficult for me to bring myself to keep reading at times, but in the end I’m glad that I did, because this is a very rewarding read.
Jo Walton has an ability to completely capture your mind and entrench you in her novels. There’s a whimsical melancholy in Among Others that fully engrossed me in the novel and, at the same time, made me want to set it aside so I could think about the concepts that it shows me with every page. I have never encountered a novel like this.
A stale start
Early in the novel, before I adapted to the unique writing style, I found myself bored. Mori is at school—and that’s basically all that happens. She has day-to-day problems that every fourteen year-old girl has in school, as I mentioned earlier, and sometimes that’s just not very interesting to read about—even if she does have some supernatural tendencies. I’m sure that upon a re-read I won’t even notice these things since I’ll be fully engrossed and used to the writing style, but upon my first read it was difficult to adapt to.
A lot of SF/F references
There are hundreds of science-fiction and fantasy novels referenced in this novel as Mori reads them, and there is absolutely no way that you could have possibly read all of them unless you’re the most hardcore of speculative fiction readers. This didn’t necessarily detract from the novel, because Mori talked more about what the books meant to her than what the books are actually about, but sometimes I felt a little lost, having read only a few of the titles mentioned. It’s not necessarily a fault, but it’s something for me to mention.
Why should you read this book?
Not only is Among Others one of the most deep and thoughtful novels I’ve ever read, it was crafted in such a beautiful way that I will be thinking about it for a very long time. There are going to be so many re-reads of this book that I will probably have to buy another copy, simply because it makes me think. This is really one of the most provocative novels of our time, and there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t read it.