After reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, I knew that I wanted to find a similar book. something that was a little bit real and a little bit magic. I’d already read Kowal’s Glamourist Histories and much of Murakami’s stuff rides the edge between real and magical (without magic), but I was looking for something different. Basically, I wanted another book like The Night Circus. This turns out to be a very hard thing to find, especially if what you’re looking for is an audio book. I was in a bind, too, because I was at work and I needed something to listen to on the way home later that day.
I’d dug around on the internet, using databases such as Novelist, but it was sending me around in circles – looking for things that the library I was at didn’t own or books that didn’t really interest me. But then, randomly, I stumbled upon Jo Walton’s book Among Others. It’s a book about books – sort of. It’s about science fiction and friendship and growing up and magic. Which is sort of what The Night Circus is about (replacing science fiction with the circus), so that made it even more appealing to me. Or at least it seemed like it had potential. I ended up calling my sister after work and she’d read the book and then spent some time reading reviews of it and I decided that I’d rather listen to it than my other option (a Joe Hill novel). What a good choice I made.
You see, Among Others is amazing. No, really, it’s amazing. Which I think is how I felt about The Night Circus. It’s the story of Morwenna, a teenager who can do magic. It sounds like every other YA out there and though Walton’s novel is usually found in the adult section (though by no means should you keep teenagers from reading it – they’ll love it), it is a coming of age story. But it’s about love – not just romantic love (though there is a some of that as well) but love as it relates to families (immediate and extended), friends, science fiction and the world at large.
What is especially appealing to me, as a book lover and a part-time obsessive fan (the rest of the time is spent working, otherwise I’d be a fulltime obsessive fan), is the fact that Morwenna is exactly that. She is obsessed with reading science fiction. Although the novel is set in the late 1979/1980, it could be set any time – except for the references to specific SF titles scattered throughout the story. Morwenna is passionate about SF and one of the conflicts she runs into is that it’s hard to find SF fans like herself. I’d like to think that if Morwenna were a teenager today, she’d have a lot easier time finding friends.
You don’t need a working knowledge of modern SF to enjoy this novel. You probably don’t even need a working knowledge of classic (as it were) SF to enjoy it – but it helps, especially if you’re familiar (even if it’s just the films) with the Lord of the Rings universe. Waltson leaves SF references throughout the text like leaves in the fall. Sometimes you rake them up in jump in them, reveling in the fact that you know exactly what she’s talking about and other times you gently push them aside because you don’t know, but might want to one day. And, of course, because everyone doesn’t like everything, there are those you stomp on and walk past. But overall, if you have a love for SF, you’ll love Among Others.
Stepping back from the SF, though it’s integral to the novel, you have Morwenna’s story. She can do magic, she doesn’t want to do magic, she has a twin, but then she doesn’t have a twin. She’s run away from home, but things are more complicated that the. The very beginning of the novel sets the tone for the rest of the book, you get a healthy dose of magic and while it’s a bit confusing, everything comes clear in the end – and I wouldn’t change it. Morwenna wants to both do what’s right and to be happy. She wants to be herself, without compromising, which as all teenagers know, is hard to do (especially if you’re not quite sure who you are – which is, I think, in part the heart of Among Others).
Walton’s cast of characters, aside from Morwenna, are deftly illustrated and described. And while this book wasn’t as perfect to me as The Night Circus, I did love it almost as much. All books have flaws and Among Others is not without them (flaws, though, that are in the eye of the beholder in this case). But they do not, in any way, detract from the novel as a whole.
If you can, I highly recommend the audio book version, but the print one should do very well. And as you can’t take notes while you’re driving, if you read the print version, you might be able to list the books you want to read, later.
Among Others is magical realism – it’s a little bit magic and a little bit realistic. But it’s also a love story to science fiction novels of the 70s and early, but even more, it’s a book about loving books – and those are hard to come by. Even if you’re only a tiny bit interested, you should read Among Others maybe you don’t like SF, but you will certainly like Morwenna.