I’m really not sure if Jo Walton’s Among Others is a good book or not. I can’t even say whether it deserved to win both the Hugo and the Nebula, since I’ve not read the other books that it was competing with.
What I can say is that Among Others is a book with an interesting hook (magic and fairies are real) that is self-consciously aiming at book-lovers of a certain age. Written as a series of journal entries, we follow Morwenna “Mor” Phelps from her native Wales into an English boarding school in the late 1970s. Along the way, we get glimpses into her past and the semi-magical tragedy that killed her twin sister, thwarted her witch-mother’s attempts to do something nefarious (Mor isn’t clear as to what), and left Mor with a cane and perpetual pain in her leg. Now, Mor has to balance her physical pain, a new school, potential romantic relationships, getting to know her estranged father, and a continuing link to the magical world.
Like I said, it has an interesting hook, and it might be a good book. But then again it might not be.
One thing that will clearly jump out even on a cursory reading is Mor’s love of books, both because she tells us over and over how much she loves books and how many books a week she reads. In case we miss the unsubtle narration, every journal entry mentions a book from the pre-1979 science fiction and fantasy canon. Well known and established authors like Heinlein, Tolkien, and Asimov make appearances, as do lesser-known writers like Poul Anderson and C.J. Cherryh. It is clear that Mor, and behind her, Jo Walton, love books and reading.
And yet somehow a book so full of reading and magic feels… joyless, I guess for lack of a better phrase. Maybe this is intentional, maybe I didn’t read the book closely enough. But this felt more Child Thief grim than Harry Potter joyful. Even with a [mild spoiler alert] successful ending, I certainly walked away feeling like magic and books hadn’t made the world a better place. And that’s something that as a Christian I can honestly say I don’t have to fear.
Still, Among Others is an intriguing read, and one that I’ll likely revisit someday.