Saturday, June 30, 2012

Among Others by Jo Walton

Jo Walton's Among Others is a lovely hybrid of fantasy and boarding school coming-of-age story, told in diary format. It's set in 1979 in England and Wales; it's also an homage to science fiction novels.

15-year-old Morwenna is painfully lonely at school in England. Her twin is dead and their mother is insane. Morwenna's only solace is found in books. I devoured science fiction when I was a teen too, which happened to be during the same time period, so it was very cool to be reminded of my own experience reading authors like Le Guin, Heinlein, McCaffrey, Clarke, Silverberg and Vonnegut.

Morwenna is extremely grateful to have access to 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." Bless the child, how I could I not love her?

Fairy creatures have always been a part of Morwenna's world, growing up in Wales. In England, the fairies don't take much notice of her, but nobody else even sees the fairies. At home, she spoke Welsh to them and they occasionally communicated with her, especially if they needed her to do something for them.

"Fairies tend to be either very beautiful or absolutely hideous. They all have eyes, and lots of them have some recognisable sort of head. Some of them have limbs in a roughly human way, some are more like animals, and others bear no resemblance to anything at all."

There is a frightening task that the fairies ask of Morwenna, one that will require her to work some magic. I like the way she describes magic: "Everything is magic. Using things connects them to you, being in the world connects you to the world, the sun streams down magic and people and animals and plants grow from sunlight and the world turns and everything is magic. Fairies are more in the magic than in the world, and people are more in the world than in the magic."

Among Others is most definitely not "a lot of angsty wittering" as Morwenna puts it. Her compelling story is both fierce and gentle; a quietly magical tale that will appeal to both teens and adults.

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