Among Others

Among others is a novel by Jo Walton, which many people have probably heard of after it won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, which are probably the two highest awards given out in the Science Fiction and Fantasy community.  I just finished the book today and I enjoyed it, so we’ll get on with the review.  I’ll have some minor spoilers for the book in the review, but it’s a good book that’s well worth reading.

Book StatsAmong Others

302 pages

Fantasy

Characters

The main character in the book is Morwenna Phelps, but to be honest I had to check the back of the book to make sure that I had her name right.  The book is written as though it’s her personal diary, and she writes down what happened in her life over the course of about a year for the book.  The book has some interesting ideas, but the thing that really makes it work is the narrative voice.  If you tried to tell the same story without Morwenna’s voice, it would have fallen flat, and there were a few times for me where the plot seemed mostly non-existant even with her voice.  All of the other characters in the book are written as Morwenna sees them, they’re all interesting characters and come across as real people.

Setting

The book is set in England across the fall of 1979 and spring of 1980, it’s basically the real world, but there are fairies around that Morwenna sees from time to time.

Plot

Overall I think the plot was the weakest part of the book.  Basically the plot is simply following Morwenna around as she lives a year in the life of a 15 year old boarding school student.  She’s very intelligent, but doesn’t fit in with many people in her school in large part due to her having a leg injury that requires her to use a cane.  There are a few points where she uses magic in the book, but the magic in this book is very subtle and Mor even says that the way the magic works you can explain it as a series of coincidences that led to the end result.

Enjoyment

This book was a little too close to the literary fiction side of writing for my taste, but – as I said earlier – ultimately the narrative voice makes it work.  There are some fun ideas in the book, one of the ones that I most enjoyed was the fact that Mor reads a lot of SciFi and Fantasy books, and I always thought it was fun when she mentioned a book that I’ve read and enjoyed.  Although I was a little upset when she said she didn’t like A Spell for Chameleon, the first book in Piers Anthony’s Xanth series.  Some of the later books in that series get to be completely absurd, but A Spell for Chameleon is a wonderful book that I’ve read multiple times.

To me what this book really was was a long question into the idea of faith.  Mor believes that many of the events are the result of magic that was done by people, whereas anyone else would see them as coincidences.  It’s similar to the story about a man lost somewhere in Alaska.  After being lost for some time, he realizes that he’ll never find his way out, and despite not being a religious person, he prays to God for help.  Shortly after praying, a man with a dogsled comes by and rescues the first man.  When talking about it later, someone says that God helped the man, whereas the lost man says the man with the dogsled saved him.  Was it going to happen anyway or did his praying retroactively set into motion a series of events that led to his being saved?  Towards the end of the book Walton goes through a series of events that get rid of most of the ambiguity that the first 2/3 of the novel builds up, and overall I think it weakens the book as a whole.

Along with the question of faith, the book also deals with a question of what it’s like to be forced into a place where you really don’t belong.  I think this is where the title comes from, and Mor refers to people around her occasionally as the “others,” whom she is forced to be among.  It’s interesting to see how she deals with it, by staying secluded and reading all the time while also intentionally saying and doing things to make the other students wary of her.  But while Mor has done things to intentionally separate herself from the rest of the school, she also really wants to be part of a group, which is a strange situation, but probably not a very uncommon feeling, especially among people who still read a lot in a world where fewer and fewer people do.

Overall Grade

Closer to literary fiction than I normally like to read, but a solid book driven by an excellent character voice.

8/10

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