four-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
52-May-June-2011
By: 
Jo Walton
user_rating: 
0

A-Among OthersSince completing an alternate-history trilogy set during World War II (Farthing [2006], Ha'penny [2007], Half a Crown [2008]) and Lifelode (2009), a stand-alone novel, World Fantasy Award winner (Tooth and Claw [2003]) Jo Walton returns with Among Others, part fantasy, part rumination on reading, part coming-of-age, and a reflection on the importance of wonder in our lives.

The Story: Like many children growing up in Wales in the late 1970s, Morwenna (Mori) Phelps and her twin sister, Morganna, see magic in the world around them. Unlike most parents, the girls' mother dabbles dangerously in the spirit world, seriously injuring Mori and killing Morganna. Mori is sent to live with a father she barely knows--a man as disconnected from the world as his daughter, it seems--and his shallow half sisters. Mori attends a boarding school where she's sorely out of place, even if she finds respite from the world in science fiction and fantasy books. When Mori's mother realizes that her daughter has been practicing magic of her own, the woman sets in motion a confrontation that will end things once and for all.
Tor. 304 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 9780765321534

boingboing 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The magic is tremendous, because Walton's heroine manages to make magic seem like it does in dreams, a nearly formless thing without rules that vanishes if you look at it too hard, a thing that is impossible to tell apart from coincidence, except you know it isn't. I'd rank this with such great stories of nerd awakening as [Daniel M.] Pinkwater's Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy From Mars, but less comic, more serious." Cory Doctorow

io9 4.5 of 5 Stars
"With Among Others, [Jo Walton] has created a beautiful paean to reading works of the imagination, filtered through the consciousness of a teenage girl in 1979. ... Without giving too much away, even though Among Others is a mostly very gentle book, it does have a thunderingly powerful ending in which all of the magical events turn out to have been leading up to something quite different than you'd expected--and Morwenna has to make some choices she didn't expect to make." Charlie Jane Anders

Locus 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The novel is rich in fully realized characters, but the major arc of suspense that develops involves what really happened on the night that Mori was injured and her sister killed, and what dark and irrational schemes her mother might still have in mind for her. ... Among Others is many things--a fully realized boarding-school tale, a literary memoir, a touching yet unsentimental portrait of a troubled family--but there's something particularly appealing about a fantasy which not only celebrates the joy of reading, but in which the heroine must face the forces of doom not in order to return yet another ring to some mountain, but to plan a trip to the 1980 Glasgow Eastercon." Gary K. Wolfe

San Francisco Chronicle 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Among Others is one of those rare tales that strike at the very heart of the healing power of literature. ... Walton's latest novel is as riveting and as moving as her recently completed alternate World War II mystery trilogy and will be enjoyed by anyone who has ever had her or his life changed by a great book." Michael Berry

Critical Summary

Among Others--science fiction, fantasy, coming-of-age, memoir--is a homage to the great books Jo Walton read as a girl in Wales, and her novel draws life from those classics. Reining in such disparate threads as Walton does can be a daunting task. To be sure, this is a book about much more than the pitfalls of adolescence, although the author has proven again and again that she's equal to the challenge (as evidenced by award nominations in just about every major SF/F category over the years). Among Others will appeal to both adults and younger readers, who will find the book "a hymnal for the clever and odd--an inspiration and a lifeline to anyone who has ever felt in the world, but not of it" (boingboing). We're normally hesitant to let a four-and-a-half-star rating go through, but the critics were so excited we'll let this one stand.