”It doesn’t matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.”
Winner of the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novel and 2011 Nebula Award for Best Novel. Startling, unusual, and yet irresistibly 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.
Set in the 1970’s, Among Others is the diary of Mori Markova, a 15 year old girl, surviving twin, and estranged daughter of a self-professed ‘witch’ – whose dabbling in dark magic (in Mori’s opinion) caused an accident that occurs in a time before this book is set; an accident which kills Mori’s sister Mor and ensures a sequence of events that result in Mori becoming re-acquainted with her father and his sisters and moving away from her mother and home in rural Wales to live at a middle-class boarding school in England, where she feels alone, alienated, confused and guilty.
Mori also has the ability to see and communicate with what she believes to be ‘faeries’, described in the book as small spirits that gave her advice, companionship and comfort back in her home town in Wales. Mori finds some faeries near her new boarding school but they seem reluctant or unable to talk to her, further adding to her sense of loneliness and turmoil. She has a long standing injury that forces her to walk with a cane and an extremely unconventional familial set up, both of which set her apart from her new classmates and prevent her from feeling ‘ordinary’. Mori retreats, as she always has done, into the fictional worlds of SF and fantasy books, mentioning a huge number of existing titles and referencing characters, plots, themes and ideas in a way that show her to be read beyond her years. This love of reading and fantasy is her main point of connection with her father, a man she prefers to call ‘Daniel’ rather than Dad or Father. Her diary catalogues her life at school and her budding relationships with her peers and Daniel, as well as offering small hints and snippets of what happened in ‘the accident’ and what life was like for her back in Wales.
To all intents and purposes, Among Others is basically an acclamation of science fiction; mentioning an incredible number of authors and titles that Mori reads whenever she has a spare moment. I loved the comments and reviews of these books that Mori would intersperse into the narrative of her life, and the fact that as a character herself she was expounding a great love, enthusiasm and devotion to other characters in the world of fiction. Her passion and dedication to her books was something I could identify with myself, which made it easy for me to engage with her as the protagonist and believe in her story, which otherwise might have been too YA/folksy for me to really fall into and enjoy. Mori makes the best of her new life by including in it as many books as she can, through weekend visits to the local town’s library and a bookstore to joining a SF appreciation club and making friends with the school librarian. She tells of her awkward relationship with her ‘new’ family, her experiences of making friends, her surprise and joy at falling in love, and her fear of her mother finding her again and making her leave the delicate and propitious situation she has found herself in and is slowly beginning to enjoy.
Whilst beautifully written and incredibly well developed, I didn’t quite know what to make of the frequent references to faeries and magic; it seemed a bit out of place in the world that Mori occupied and I rather think that this story would have done as well had it simply been written as diary of an adolescent sci-fi fan, keeping in all of Mori’s teenage angst, family drama, school troubles and love of books, and leaving out ‘the accident’, the witchcraft and the faeries. I love magic, I love books about magic, I love imaginary beings such as wizards and goblins and the like – but only if they fit the story, and are crucial to it, and in this case I didn’t think their presence quite worked or was necessary. In fact, I will go as far as to say those parts of the narrative were almost like an unwelcome distraction from the day-to-day life of Mori, which I thought engaging and interesting enough to not need any supernatural elements. Her sisters death could easily have been given an Earthly explanation, leaving Mori’s grief and reaction exactly as they are; I didn’t ever really believe in the magic portrayed in the book, and as such my immersion in her suffering and my sympathy for her were affected.
Overall, I’d say that Among Others is a book about books, and the ordinary life of an ordinary girl who is thrown into an increasingly adult world and chooses to rely on the lessons she has learned from her favourite stories to grow and develop into the person she aspires to be. I loved it for this reason and did genuinely enjoy reading the book, but I do think it would have worked better as a book about fantasy rather than one which tried to also include fantasy. Some of Mori’s diary entries are wonderfully eloquent and beautifully expressive, showing that Walton most definitely has a way with words and an understanding of the appeal of incredible fiction – something which I’d say Among Others delivers in places but falls short of in others, mainly due to the inclusion of a magical element which as I explained above I didn’t really feel ‘fitted’ with the story as much as it could or should have done. I’d still recommend this book to lovers of fantasy, literature or YA novels as it is incredibly moving and well written, and I’d be interested to see if it was just me who though the fantastical element was surplus to requirements or whether I’m just been overtly picky with my fantasy reads!
DISCLAIMER: *This book was gifted to me by the publishers Corsair books in exchange for an honest review, I did not receive payment for this post nor am I affiliated with the author in any way.*