Adult · Fantasy · folk fantasy · review

Among Others by Jo Walton


Hardcover 302 pages
Published January 18th 2011 by Tor Books
Source: Purchased


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…


Among Others is about the Welsh landscape, about fairies, about evil mothers and dead sisters. It is about witches and bad food. It is about an intensely complicated extended family. But mostly it is about books. Specifically SFF books. And libraries. The novel is an ode to libraries. Particularly the invention of the ILL (the interlibrary loan).

The novel is an epistolary one, written in a diary format and through the protagonist’s progression with her life after she comes to live with a long lost father, we learn of the events that had spurred her to escape from her mother and get to where she is at the moment of writing. Morwenna is an interesting character – though she does not read like a typical teenager, she doesn’t seem older than her years either. She’s atypical in her likes, interests and expressions but she also has this skein of immaturity and vulnerability juxtaposed with an optimism that I have come to think of as strictly belonging to teenagers.

The paranormal aspect of this novel, the fairies are not outside the realm of possibility but instead explained as something so entirely natural that human beings having immersed themselves in unnatural things have forgotten how to see them. They have lost the belief, the faith that lets them see these fairies. And the fairies themselves are entirely unworldly; not supernatural beings who you can fall in love with because they’ll be gone at the first hint of pain and what is love but pain?

The novel is quiet and introspective. Morwenna talks quite a bit about the books she reads; she discusses her reaction to them and whether she’d read any others by the same author and even though most of the books she talks about are strange to me, the fact that she loves books – reading perhaps ten in one week – is completely something I can relate to. Her frequent trips to the library, bookstore and the secondhand thrift store for books are things I do. Her complaints about the heavy bag she’s carrying because it contains all her books is also something I have experienced.

The story itself, the overarching plot, what there is of it, is important but secondary to Morwenna’s experience at school and the steps she takes to cleave herself from her dead twin sister and the sinister mother who keeps on sending spelled letters. This book is not YA or genre fiction so it is not plot driven. It moves very slowly and in directions you would not expect but it is a rewarding experience. I recommend it to anyone who loves books. This is prominently a book about books and how could you go wrong with that?


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