By: Jo Walton
As a child growing up in Wales, Morwenna played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. When her half-mad mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled–and her twin sister dead.
Fleeing to a father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England–a place all but devoid of true magic. There, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off…
This book caught my attention ever since I saw that it won the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2012. The premise was also intriguing and I’ve heard wonderful things about this book so it’s been on my want-to-read pile for a very long while. I finally got around to it a short time ago and wow, I was in for quite the surprise. Contains some spoilers ahead!
Among Others is a whimsical, curious and fascinating book all at the same time. The story is presented through Mori’s journal entries. Through this the reader learns a lot about what Mori’s thinking and feeling and who she is as a person. At the same time, it works as an interesting medium for the story; there’s the mystery of why she ended up moving with her father and subsequently to boarding school and why her mother did what she did and how her half-sister died (when I started reading this novel I did not look at the blurb again so I totally forgot what the overall narrative was about). In a way it is a coming-of-age story with Mori coming to terms with her biological family, with school and adolescence, her handicap, with matters of love–all with the help of her books sustaining her along the way.
I only found out about this when I saw one of the tags on GoodReads about this book but Among Others is, for one thing, a novel about books and the love of books. Mori is a voracious reader and much of her entries are about the books she read, mostly science fiction but peppered with fantasy and ancient classics (and the occasional Victorian classic). It’s an interesting experience reading her reactions because in a way it’s like reading a book blog and learning her thoughts about the books she’s read. I love her thoughts on The Lord of the Rings because I share the same feelings towards it (that it’s like going on a journey rather than just reading a story, that it’s so brilliant that it must be real =P) but then there’s a few things that I disagree with her (like her thoughts on Arwen), all of which is like contemporary book-blogging or book club discussions, right? If you’re a voracious reader or a great lover of books like she is (or like I am) you’d totally appreciate her reaction and how much she loves these books.
As an aside, I got a whole ton of books now to check out thanks to this book =P Much as I love and grew up in the sci-fi genre, I haven’t really gotten around to a whole lot of books yet. I hope to change this in the coming year or so. Here’s a list of all the books mentioned if you’re interested.
Moving along, I can see why some people may feel bored by the novel. In this sense the book feels like a literary fiction where you’re compelled to read on because of the character and her thoughts and what she’s going through. I found her thoughts to be more interesting than the plot about the faeries and why she was staying far away from her mother. I’m not sure if it’s because of the journal medium but I found that plot to be rather weak and I never really got a sense that her mother was really a danger until the end. I mean, she alluded to what her mother did and her thoughts about her but a) Mori is fifteen, one could have interpreted her feelings as her way to expressing her disagreements about her mother rather than the magic being concrete and b) her mother never showed up until the end. Mori stayed far away from her for most of the novel and I never picked up from the narrative that her mother dabbled in something pretty nefarious until she explained it to Wim–and even then I wondered about it. I considered the possibility that her thoughts about the faeries coupled with the fact that her journal contained her personal thoughts was her way of coping through these bad times and the recent tragedies.
I also enjoyed reading as Mori dealt with her father’s side of the family. Having not had any connection with them until she moved to boarding school, it was interesting to see how she dealt with these new people in her life, how she felt removed by them but gradually connecting with them on some level, especially her grandfather Sam and to some extent her father. There was a moment somewhere in the novel involving her father that was quite alarming and I’m surprised at Mori’s reaction to that; clearly Mori has been through a lot that I’m not surprised by her…jadedness?…but her particular reaction to that instance was concerning nonetheless. Her father clearly has some issues to resolve but it seems by the end of the novel that she reached some sort of peace/understanding with the new people in her life.
Overall I enjoyed Among Others and as a book lover I can totally relate with Mori’s love of books. Mori’s characterisation is fully realised and while the storyline concerning her mother and the faeries left me a little wanting, I enjoyed reading about her day-to-day life. If you’re a fan of fantasy and/or science fiction or just a major reader, I’d recommend checking this book out.