Among Others

Among Others

3.4 63
by Jo Walton
     
 

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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.

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Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Elizabeth Hand
…beautifully written…More than anything else, Among Others is a love letter to the literature of the fantastic and to SF fandom.
—The Washington Post
Jeff VanderMeer
It's a brave act to write a novel that is in ­essence all aftermath, but Walton succeeds admirably. Her novel is a wonder and a joy.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
World Fantasy Award–winner Walton (Tooth and Claw) turns the magical boarding school story inside out in this compelling coming-of-age tale. Welsh teen Morwenna was badly hurt, and her twin sister killed, when the two foiled their abusive mother's spell work. Seeking refuge with a father she barely knows in England, Mori is shunted off to a grim boarding school. Mori works a spell to find kindred souls and soon meets a welcoming group of science fiction readers, but she can feel her mother looking for her, and this time Mori won't be able to escape. Walton beautifully captures the outsider's yearning in Mori's earthy and thoughtful journal entries: "It doesn't matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books." Never deigning to transcend the genre to which it is clearly a love letter, this outstanding (and entirely teen-appropriate) tale draws its strength from a solid foundation of sense-of-wonder and what-if. (Jan.)
VOYA - Ruth Cox Clark
Walton, a World Fantasy Award recipient, has deftly created a realistic late 1970s setting where science fiction and fantasy meld. Readers are right next to fifteen-year-old Morwenna, peering into the woods to find the fairies (not pretty ones either) that she can communicate with. After a terrible accident brought about by her black-magic-obsessed mother who killed Morwenna's twin sister, she flees Wales to live with her estranged English father. Instead, her prim and proper aunts, who Morwenna is sure are witches, send her to an English boarding school. Crippled from the accident and grieving her sister's death, this lonely teen finds solace in books: "There are books you can fall into and pull over your head." Against her better judgment, Morwenna uses magic to find like-minded friends and shortly after, with the help of her boarding school librarian, joins a book club of fellow science fiction and fantasy lovers where she feels welcome. Morwenna returns to Wales for the holidays and the inevitable battle with her mother. Readers learn intimate details of Morwenna's past and current life via heartbreaking and starkly honest journal entries peppered with title and author references. Science fiction readers will want a notebook handy to jot them down, but they can also be skimmed by readers who are not fans of these genres. Morwenna is a complex, quirky character who readers will quickly be drawn to as they join her on her quest of self-discovery. Reviewer: Ruth Cox Clark
Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
Walton is not playing fairly. She has written a book about science fiction that is not science fiction. It is a fantasy, but plays hide and seek through a fairy world. It extols the virtues of libraries and librarians and will, undoubtedly, take its place on library shelves where dedicated librarians will hand it to teenagers who feel as much like misfits as the heroine, Morwenna Phelps. In 1979, Morwenna (known as Mori) is sent away to a British boarding school to separate her from her mad mother who has caused the death of Morwenna's twin. In her Welsh home, Mori has visited with fairies and done their bidding, but in the mundane school atmosphere, Mori struggles to hold on to her magical powers and gain control over the crippling pain, a result of the same accident that killed her sister. She retreats into science fiction and gorges on the entirety of the genre written to that time. So, while this book is not itself science fiction, it will send intrigued readers scampering to the stacks for Heinlein, Zelazny, and LeGuin. Mori's life is enriched by a book group where she meets another outcast named Wim, a working class boy with whom she forms a bond, both magical and physical. It is Wim's friendship that pulls Mori back from the abyss when fairies beckon her to rejoin her sister in death. For more than half the book, readers will battle with the question of whether Mori's magic is real or imagined, but the final chapters answer the question most satisfactorily. This is a book for mature readers because it skirts the issues of teenage sex and sexuality. However, it presents some strong adult models that treat teens as equals, and is much more than the problem novels that Mori abhors. It is a book that will weave an extraordinary spell for many readers searching for a fictional soul mate. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross
Library Journal
World Fantasy Award winner Walton (Tooth and Claw) spins an enchanting tale filled with libraries and magic through the pages of a young woman's diary. Morwenna and her twin, Morganna, spent their childhood sur-rounded by Welsh ruins and fairies. Torn from her sister and hiding from her crazy mother, Morwenna finds herself in the care of her estranged father and his eerily controlling sisters. Surrounded by things strange and unfamiliar, she struggles to find safety and balance through protective magic, enigmatic fairies, and the pages of sf and fantasy novels. Interlibrary loan privileges, a book club at the public library, and the handsome and disreputable Wim help Morwenna manage the cruelty of classmates and evade her mother's sorcerous clutches. But even protective magic leaves a trail, and Morwenna ends up fighting for her life and everything she's come to believe.Verdict A delightful reminder of the wonder and power of books and the libraries that keep them.—Jennifer Anderson, Texas A&M Univ.-Corpus Christi

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429991520
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
01/18/2011
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
107,672
File size:
0 MB

Read an Excerpt


THURSDAY 1ST MAY 1975
 
The Phurnacite factory in Abercwmboi killed all the trees for two miles around. We’d measured it on the mileometer. It looked like something from the depths of hell, black and looming with chimneys of flame, reflected in a dark pool that killed any bird or animal that drank from it. The smell was beyond description. We always wound up the car windows as tight as tight when we had to pass it, and tried to hold our breath, but Grampar said nobody could hold their breath that long, and he was right. There was sulphur in that smell, which was a hell chemical as everyone knew, and other, worse things, hot unnameable metals and rotten eggs.
My sister and I called it Mordor, and we’d never been there on our own before. We were ten years old. Even so, big as we were, as soon as we got off the bus and started looking at it we started holding hands.
It was dusk, and as we approached the factory loomed blacker and more terrible than ever. Six of the chimneys were alight; four belched out noxious smokes.
“Surely it is a device of the Enemy,” I murmured.
Mor didn’t want to play. “Do you really think this will work?”
“The fairies were sure of it,” I said, as reassuringly as possible.
“I know, but sometimes I don’t know how much they understand about the real world.”
“Their world is real,” I protested. “Just in a different way. At a different angle.”
“Yes.” She was still staring at the Phurnacite, which was getting bigger and scarier as we approached. “But I don’t know how much they understand about the angle of the every day world. And this is definitely in that world. The trees are dead. There isn’t a fairy for miles.”
“That’s why we’re here,” I said.
We came to the wire, three straggly strands, only the top one barbed. A sign on it read “No Unauthorised Admittance. Beware Guard Dogs.” The gate was far around the other side, out of sight.
“Are there dogs?” she asked. Mor was afraid of dogs, and dogs knew it. Perfectly nice dogs who would play with me would rouse their hackles at her. My mother said it was a method people could use to tell us apart. It would have worked, too, but typically of her, it was both terrifyingly evil and just a little crazily impractical.
“No,” I said.
“How do you know?”
“It would ruin everything if we go back now, after having gone to all this trouble and come this far. Besides, it’s a quest, and you can’t give up on a quest because you’re afraid of dogs. I don’t know what the fairies would say. Think of all the things people on quests have to put up with.” I knew this wasn’t working. I squinted forward into the deepening dusk as I spoke. Her grip on my hand had tightened. “Besides, dogs are animals. Even trained guard dogs would try to drink the water, and then they’d die. If there really were dogs, there would be at least a few dog bodies at the side of the pool, and I don’t see any. They’re bluffing.”
We crept below the wire, taking turns holding it up. The still pool was like old unpolished pewter, reflecting the chimney flames as unfaithful wavering streaks. There were lights below them, lights the evening shift worked by.
There was no vegetation here, not even dead trees. Cinders crunched underfoot, and clinker and slag threatened to turn our ankles. There seemed to be nothing alive but us. The star-points of windows on the hill opposite seemed ridiculously out of reach. We had a school friend who lived there, we had been to a party once, and noticed the smell, even inside the house. Her father worked at the plant. I wondered if he was inside now.
At the edge of the pool we stopped. It was completely still, without even the faintest movement of natural water. I dug in my pocket for the magic flower. “Have you got yours?”
“It’s a bit crushed,” she said, fishing it out. I looked at them. Mine was a bit crushed too. Never had what we were doing seemed more childish and stupid than standing in the centre of that desolation by that dead pool holding a pair of crushed pimpernels the fairies had told us would kill the factory.
I couldn’t think of anything appropriate to say. “Well, un, dai, tri!” I said, and on “Three” as always we cast the flowers forward into the leaden pool, where they vanished without even a ripple. Nothing whatsoever happened. Then a dog barked far away, and Mor turned and ran and I turned and pelted after her.
“Nothing happened,” she said, when we were back on the road, having covered the distance back in less than a quarter of the time it had taken us as distance out.
“What did you expect?” I asked.
“The Phurnacite to fall and become a hallowed place,” she said, in the most matter-of-fact tone imaginable. “Well, either that or huorns.”
I hadn’t thought of huorns, and I regretted them extremely. “I thought the flowers would dissolve and ripples would spread out and then it would crumble to ruin and the trees and ivy come swarming over it while we watched and the pool would become real water and a bird would come and drink from it and then the fairies would be there and thank us and take it for a palace.”
“But nothing at all happened,” she said, and sighed. “We’ll have to tell them it didn’t work tomorrow. Come on, are we going to walk home or wait for a bus?”
It had worked, though. The next day, the headline in the Aberdare Leader was “Phurnacite Plant Closing: Thousands of Jobs Lost.”
*   *   *
I’m telling that part first because it’s compact and concise and it makes sense, and a lot of the rest of this isn’t that simple.
Think of this as a memoir. Think of it as one of those memoirs that’s later discredited to everyone’s horror because the writer lied and is revealed to be a different colour, gender, class and creed from the way they’d made everybody think. I have the opposite problem. I have to keep fighting to stop making myself sound more normal. Fiction’s nice. Fiction lets you select and simplify. This isn’t a nice story, and this isn’t an easy story. But it is a story about fairies, so feel free to think of it as a fairy story. It’s not like you’d believe it anyway.

 
Copyright © 2010 by Jo Walton

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