Jo Walton’s novel Among Others was a lot of fun. I also felt it had a number of kind of obvious flaws, but, still, it was absorbing and enjoyable. It has a fabulous book club in it and a teenage girl who is obsessed with books, and it also has magic and fairies, and it takes place partly in Wales. Those are all very good things.
Morwenna, otherwise known as Mori, is the protagonist, a teenage girl who just lost her twin sister in a car accident. Mori herself suffered a hip injury that has left her with a limp and in need of a cane. It was more than just a car accident, though, as it happened when the twin sisters were battling their mother for reasons that are mysterious through much of the book but involve magic used for evil purposes. Mori has run away from her home in Wales to escape her mother and has found refuge with her father in England, whom she has never really known. Her father lives with his sisters who decide Mori should be packed off to boarding school as soon as possible. So she goes, and is (not surprisingly at all) miserable there. She not only has a limp and can’t participate in sports with the other sports-obsessed girls, but she is Welsh and doesn’t come from money.
Her only consolation is that she gets to spend the hours normally devoted to athletics reading in the library. She is an avid science fiction and fantasy reader, and this forms the one connection she has with her father, who has the same reading tastes and sends her books frequently. She also discovers the joy of interlibrary loan, and keeps both the school and the town librarians busy recommending and ordering books. The best moment, though, is when she finds out about the science fiction book group run through the town library. Here she finds her community: a group of people equally obsessed with books as she is.
But there is another sense in which she is an outsider: she sees fairies and knows how to do magic. The fairies were in much greater abundance in Wales, but she finds them in England as well and tries, with mixed success, to communicate with them. She also, with equally mixed success, explores her ability to do magic. In desperation one day, she casts a spell in order to find some friends to help her cope with her loneliness and unhappiness. This leads to a lot of uncertainty, though, because when she finds those friends in the form of the book group, she’s not sure if they are genuine or there just because of the spell she cast. Magic, she knows, is complicated and dangerous, with unknown consequences. Not least, of course, when used with malicious intent by one’s own mother.
All this is a lot of fun. The flaws I mentioned earlier have to do with the meandering pace of the plot, in part; while I enjoyed reading about all the book group meetings, the details of how she gets there, how she gets home, how she gets to the bookstore, how she gets home, etc. take up an awful lot of space. There is a lot of action at the novel’s end, but it’s all bunched up in a way that feels rushed and unsatisfying. And then there’s Mori’s love interest, Wim, whom I was not terribly fond of. I found their relationship unconvincing.
That said, this is still a book I read quickly and contentedly. I haven’t read much science fiction in my life, and Walton made me want to read more. That’s a pretty good recommendation for a book, I think.