REVIEW: Among Others by Jo Walton

by | SF/Fantasy

This review was originally published on the Sulis International blog. Reposted here with permission. If you would like to write a book review for Sulis International, email them here.

If you are looking for pure SF or Fantasy, you will probably be disappointed. If you are looking for a young female heroine (á la Hunger Games), the book will fall short. If you are not a SF/Fantasy fan, Mor’s frequent discussions of books and authors will be uninteresting. But if you want to read a well-written book that avoids maudlin coming-of-age memes or overused fantasy paradigms, along with exploration of the human condition, you will enjoy this book.

Every few years I look up all the Hugo, Nebula, and Pulitzer prize-winning novels. I read the ones I have not read since the last time. This time, I had to go back to 2011. The second winner was this one, The Others, by Jo Walton.
I was not sure I wanted to read this book because (1) the reviews were mixed (in spite of the award) and (2) it is set as the diary of a 15-year-old girl from Wales. I had little desire for a prurient perusal through adolescent femininity unless the literary journey was worth it. It was.

As I began to read, I found myself intrigued. Not only is the main character, Morweena (Mor), a SF and fantasy fan (like me), but she has some passing experience with Celtic magic and hidden beings that inhabit forests (she calls them “fairies,” though she is not really sure what they are). More central to the plot is something that happened to Mor that left her crippled and killed her twin sister. The tragedy had something to do with her mother, magic, and the fairies. Mor escaped to her father (whom she had never met), who helps her attend a boarding school in England.

The diary itself is Mor’s thoughts and experience being an outsider, growing up, her enjoyment of SF/Fantasy, and her occasional interaction with magic and fairies. The vehicle of a diary lends itself to wandering, but it all ties together by the end of the book. Some critique the book for going nowhere, but I think they are missing the underlying literary meaning. A reader might not realize it until the end, but this novel is an excellent moral exploration of how humans face grief and loss. True art should entertain while helping us address any of the moral issues of being human. This book does both.

Through the first few chapters, there was enough to keep me going. How did her sister die? What role did her mother play? What is the nature of what Mor calls “fairies” and “magic”? Is Mor forever destined to be an outcast, haunted by the loss of her twin sister? Or will those who use magic for selfish reasons destroy her?

If you are looking for pure SF or Fantasy, you will probably be disappointed. If you are looking for a young female heroine (á la Hunger Games), the book will fall short. If you are not a SF/Fantasy fan, Mor’s frequent discussions of books and authors will be uninteresting. But if you want to read a well-written book that avoids maudlin coming-of-age memes or overused fantasy paradigms, along with exploration of the human condition, you will enjoy this book.

I enjoyed the homage to SF/Fantasy, the exploration of losing a loved one, and the idea that there is more to the world than most of us know.

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