Thursday, June 30, 2011

Among Others by Jo Walton

Among Others by Jo Walton

Completion Date: May 7, 2011
Reason for Reading: Once Upon a Time Challenge
Startling, unusual, and yet irresistably readable, Among Others is at once the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.

Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled—and her twin sister dead.

Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England–a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, 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.

Combining elements of autobiography with flights of imagination in the manner of novels like Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude, this is potentially a breakout book for an author whose genius has already been hailed by peers like Kelly Link, Sarah Weinman, and Ursula K. Le Guin.
I have heard a lot of positive talk about this book, so I knew I was going to have to read it! Plus, I love the cover. My friend read Jo Walton years ago and told me I had to read her, too. She is on my TBR pile. This is my first time reading her and it is her newest book! Now I am particularly interested in seeing what happens in the other books I own by her.

I have been talking about doing a buddy read with Iliana for a while, but things never seem to work out. This time we both read the book, so we should post be posting our review today. I am a little late because my mouse is giving out on me and it is driving me nuts. Anyway, in order to do this we asked each other 4 questions. My answers to her questions are below and you can read her answers to mine on her blog.

1. The book has been described as a coming of age tale. What is one scene that you feel emphasizes this point?
I hate to think of this as a coming of age tale because I generally hate coming of age tales. It is only if I pretend they are otherwise I can stomach them. I can see this one being one, though. I think Morwenna really comes into her own when she joins the science-fiction book club. She has always felt like a bit of an outsider, but suddenly she finds that she belongs and her whole life changes as a result. She starts to get a bit more confident with her life and then she is able to tackle some of the larger issues hanging over her head.

2. Morwenna is a devoted reader of sci/fi books. As you were reading it did you take note of some of the titles she liked and would you like to read them?
There were so many good books mentioned throughout the pages of this one. I actually tried to find a website that lists all of the books in here. If anyone knows of one, let me know! There are several authors that have been on my TBR pile for a while that I haven't got around to reading. I now feel like I have further recommendation to finally get to them. One that comes to mind is Anne McCaffrey. I have known I had to read her for a while, but still haven't got around to her.

3. While it's Mori's mother that the reader is supposed to not like because of her actions, I thought her father was also quite unlikeable. Do you have any feelings about him and his actions (or sometimes lack of action)?
Yeah, there was one scene that turned me off him entirely. I thought I might like him a bit because after years of not being around he is finally making an effort, but then I got to know him and I was a bit appalled at the way he has acted. He has redeeming characteristics, though. As the novel progresses towards to the end I felt that he was starting to get his act together and be a parent. He still has a long way to go, but at least he was trying. He also loved reading himself and I can't entirely fault a fellow reader.

4. Would you recommend this book to any reader or only for sci-fii readers? Why?
I think this book has enough elements to attract any reader. I don't think it only works for science-fiction readers. Like the first question said, it is a coming of age story and that is a popular form of fiction. There are fantasy elements, but they are not too crazy as to turn anyone off that doesn't normally read fantasy. You could argue that they are not fantasy elements at all, but that is something you should discover with a read of your own. And, it is a book about loving books. You may not normally read science-fiction yourself, but you can appreciate the love of a reader and the enthusiasm she shows for books.


  1. ARgh!!!! I f*#in hate Blogger. I just typed a wordy response and hit submit and not only error coded me but also ate the comment so that I couldn’t just hit the back button and try again. I’ll do my best to recreate my ramblings.

    First off, here is your link to the books mentioned, provided by Jo Walton herself:

    I’m glad you brought that up because I had meant to look for a list when I read it a few months ago and forgot.

    Among Others is a favorite of the year and one of my favorite reads in general. Upon closing the book I immediately reopened it and read it aloud to my wife, who also adored it. And she is not the big SFF fan that I am.

    I tend to really like coming of age tales, in part because so many favorite stories in book and film are just that, and in part because I am endlessly fascinated with that age old idea that one must ‘grow up’ and leave childish things behind, coupled with the fact that the most well rounded adults that I know are those who either never let go of entirely or re-embraced “childish” things.

    I hated that specific scene with the father, and unless it was autobiographically inspired, as some of this book was, I don’t see that it leant anything at all to the story. I’ll admit that I actually edited that part out of the story when reading it to my wife because I knew it would color the rest of her perception of the book and I didn’t want that to happen. I know, I’m a bad person because of my censorship. Despite that completely inexcusable behavior I did find redeeming qualities in the father. His willingness to share his books and discuss them with his daughter was part of that, but I also saw growth in the character as he took on slightly more responsibility for his daughter.

    I have to thank editors Jonathan Strahan and Gary Wolfe for talking excitedly about this book in their end of the year podcast, or I may not have even picked it up. They did not steer me wrong! This is a truly special book and one that I know non-SFF fans would enjoy. Because at its heart it is about the love of reading, the role books have in our lives, and the importance of friendship, and all of us who are readers can relate to those things. The book inspires me to become more well read in the genres that I love and it also reminded me of the karass that is formed in the book blogging community and just how precious that is

  2. I just read Tooth & Claw and LOVED it, so I definitely want to read more of Walton now! I'm not a natural sci-fi girl (as opposed to fantasy, which I've always loved), but I'm sure I'll love this regardless. And I'm bookmarking the link Carl provided now, because I suspect I'll want to read more sci-fi after finishing it! (Also, I lurved Anne McCaffrey in high school. :D)

  3. That scene with the father was extremely weird. I did not know what to make of that scene, and I still don't.

    I went searching for the book list as soon as I read your post in Google Reader, but silly me, Carl already linked you. I've got it bookmarked now so I won't lose it again.

  4. I have Tooth and Claw out from the library at the moment, having never read Walton, but having heard lots of really good things about her books.

  5. I so want to read this! I need to go to the library anyways this weekend, and I'm not coming home without a copy of this!

    don't know when I'm gonna find time to read it . . .

  6. Wait til Pat hears that you haven't read McCaffrey :p Why do you do this to me Kelly!!!! I already wanted to read this so bad but now I'm about to buy it :/

  7. I'm a sucker for the cover too and this is one that I want to read.

  8. I simply loved this. i think it would be enjoyed by many readers but I have noticed on my blog that whenever the words fantasy (even in a spcific different context) or Sci-Fi are mentioned, many just walk away. Bit sad. Yeah, well, guess it is their loss.

  9. **Carl: I HATE when that happens!! I am sorry about it!

    **Eva: I am looking forward to Tooth & Claw at some point. I own it.

    **Jenny: It was kind of random... And never really touched on again...

    **Marg: I am looking forward to Tooth & Claw.

    **Chris: She knows I haven't read McCaffrey. I emailed her the other day to see where to start. :)

    **Staci: It was enjoyable!

    **Caroline: It was a great book!!


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