Jo Walton is a Welsh-Canadian science fiction and fantasy author. (I would not normally read a book by a known science fiction and fantasy writer!)
I would say that Among Others is a gentle version of fantasy. I wasn’t overwhelmed by magic or fairies or unicorns or wizards. It is a book about a girl who has a mean mother (a witch, in fact), who has lost her sister, and who has come to live with a father that she doesn’t know. For me, the magical elements were not the reason I liked the book, although they did add some extra interest and unpredictability to the story. I liked that the magic was explained as a “chain of coincidence” rather than as something that happens out of the blue.
One of the things I’ve always liked about science fiction is the way it makes you think about things, and look at things from angles you’d never have thought about before.
Mori’s father and three aunts have sent her to a boarding school, Mori believes to get her out of the way. What I liked most about the book were the experiences she had at school, with the other girls, with the people in town, at the library, in the book club she joins, with the school librarian, and with her father and his family.
It’s depressing how much boarding school is just like Enid Blyton showed it, and all the ways it’s different are ways it’s worse.
Mori’s been separated from her mother’s family in Wales, who she still longs for, she is grieving for her sister, and she now has all this new stuff to deal with. All of this has been written about before – there are many ways it could go – but adding the magical elements gives it a twist.
Magic isn’t inherently evil. But it does seem to be terribly bad for people.
Personally, I could have done with less magic and fairies and more character development. Mori was curious about her father, aunts, and paternal grandfather – she wanted to know more about them – and so did I. For the length of the book, I don’t feel like I ever got to know the “who” or the “why” of things.
I did, however, enjoy the bookishness of this novel. Mori is constantly reading or thinking about reading, or telling us about the books she’s read and comparing them to each other. She belongs to a science fiction book club at the library, and she is always putting books on hold and picking them up. Most of the books she talks about are science fiction, some of which I had never heard of (plus it was 1980, so older science fiction, but who doesn’t love Lord of the Rings?). She writes letters to her father about the books she reads (he loves science fiction, too), and he sends her money to buy more books. I was thrilled when, on page 19, she mentions Jane of Lantern Hill.
I can bear anything as long as there are books.
There are some awful things in the world, it’s true, but there are also some great books.
Interlibrary loans are a wonder of the world and a glory of civilization.
Libraries really are wonderful. They’re better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts.
Among Others is written as Mori’s journal. I liked reading about her day to day interactions (like eating honey buns and tea at the local cafe, and getting soap-on-a-rope as a gift from her aunts) as well as the bigger picture of her past and her fears for the future.
I think it’s a great book for the YA crowd. I have already recommended Among Others to my daughter who loves science fiction (and books). And maybe it will inspire her to read some sci-fi classics.
Have you read anything by Jo Walton? Are you a sci-fi/fantasy fan? Are there other Welsh-Canadian writers you would recommend?
Completely Coincidental Bonus Content
After reading Rebecca’s review of The Lady Doctor by Ian Williams, I put a hold on his first book, The Bad Doctor, surprised (but happy) to see it at our library. It was only while I was reading it that I clued in to the fact that it’s set in North Wales. The author, Ian Williams (not to be confused with the other Ian Williams), lived in North Wales for twenty years after studying medicine in Cardiff.
All I really need to say about this book to recommend it is that I read it. The whole thing. Of course I’ve read all the Captain Underpants books and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but until now I hadn’t read a graphic novel for adults all the way through.
I think what did it for me was the medical aspect. So, although I might not start picking up graphic novels willy-nilly, I just might pick up more by Ian Williams, or others with a medical theme. What’s not fascinating about reading stories of the variety of patients that walk through a doctor’s door?
Skillfully told, relentlessly honest, often funny, and painfully true… this is courageous work. — David Small, author of ‘Stitches: A Memoir’