Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Review: Among Others

Every so often, you run across a novel so sublime and brilliantly written that you want to go out and recommend it to everyone you know who loves books. Among Others is just such a novel.

The novel is clearly autobiographical in many areas, as anyone who's met Jo Walton (as I did during last year's WorldCon) might guess. But it's clearly fictional as well.

The first thing that Walton does is to turn the typical fantasy story upside down by having all the important fantastical events happen prior to the start of the novel. The protagonist has already saved the world. Now she's dealing with the aftermath and consequences of her prior actions: she'd lost her twin sister, she's made enemies out of her mother (a witch who tried to take over the world), and one of her legs is crippled, forcing her to walk with a cane. She now has to be cared for by a father who abandoned her as a child, attend a boarding school, and is in general ripped away from her previous life.

All that she has left is books. And of course, like Jo Walton (and hopefully many readers of this blog), she's a science fiction and fantasy fan, having grown up with Dying Inside, Heinlein, Asimov's, and of course Tolkein. Walton does a great job of in-cluing readers so that even if you haven't read all the novels mentioned in this novel (and you'd have to be incredibly well read to have read all of them), you will have a good understanding of what the novels are about and what the highlights of the authors' writing style is. Walton is an extremely well-read book critic, and her taste and sensibility and ability to summarize say, The first four Amber books in succinct phrases that resonate with the reader serves her well here.

Yes, it's a teenage coming of age novel, but unlike popular teenager novels nowadays, this book could be described almost as the perfect antidote to Twilight and others of its ilk. The heroine/protagonist doesn't do anything stupid, is incredibly level headed about love and sex, but the author also takes care to bring you the subtle nuances of what it means to be a girl in an English boarding school, with all the intrigues and pointless shaming. However, since the protagonist had already done so much with her life, she doesn't succumb to typical high school angst. When she acquires a boyfriend, she does so with no drama, though there might have been a little magic involved.

Yes, there's magic in the book, and fairies. But it's done in a very subtle fashion, very appropriate to the setting of an English boarding school. There's nothing flashy about it, and how magic goes about its business isn't obvious.

This is a slow paced book, similar to Crossing to Safety, and it is a testament to Walton's skill that the reader does not feel the slow pace at all. When the climax comes, it sneaks up on you, and when you see how the protagonist resolves it the thematic fit and elegance almost hits you in the head, which would be a little too much for any other novel, but works very well in this one.

If you enjoy novels, especially science fiction and fantasy of the era (the book is set in the late 1970s), then you owe it to yourself to read this book. It really is a trip and if not the best novel I've read this year, pretty darn close.

Highly recommended
Post a Comment