Hardcover, January 2011
Some novels are magical in their depiction of the mundane, ordinary life. When such novels add a sprinkling of magic and personal, then it is possible for said novel to transcend labels and simply be a wonderful and moving fictional account that touches upon the heartstrings of reality. In Jo Walton’s admittedly semi-autobiographical novel, Among Others, we meet a young girl named Morwenna Phelps who very much feels she is an outsider wherever she goes, especially after the recent death of her twin sister. This is can be consider a coming of age novel and despite the separation of an ocean, gender, and age, Mor is one of the most empathetic and identifiable protagonists I’ve come across in a long while. Or rather, what happens after one comes of age and has to pick up the pieces of a devastating loss.
A novel like this is very difficult to sum up without giving away too many spoilers or revealing the joy of discovery Mor experiences. Essentially, Among Others is epistolary novel told through Mor’s diary. Though I haven’t read too many novels structured in this manner, I wonder if they all hold the same addictive, powerful and voyeuristic appeal as does Walton’s novel. What made this novel work so well for me, and many readers of SF, is Mor’s unbridled love of the genre and perhaps more importantly, how it essentially saved her and allowed her to move on from the tragedy she experienced into the next stage of her life. The novel can be seen as a testament to not only the power of story and the written word, but also the power of community so strongly associated with SF. In fact, as I was reading the novel I very much wanted to visit some of the books Mor read. I made a journey to the local used bookshop to pick up some older SF contemporary with many of the novels Mor read, as well as Walton’s debut novel The King’s Peace.
One element I mulled over while reading the novel, and now upon reflection is how reliable a narrator Mor truly is. We only have her words and impressions on which to judge other characters and the situations, so the truth of her sister and the remainder of her family, most importantly her mother, can only be trusted. That having been said, the truth of the magic and faeries Mor sees, meets, and knows is honest and plausible. Neil Gaiman appropriated a G.K. Chesterton quote for Coraline, his modern young adult classic – “Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” For Walton’s tale, I would say Mor’s tale is true because the Faeries and Mor’s magic tells us we can overcome the greatest challenges of our lives.
Among Others is a fantasy novel that doubles as a love letter to the Golden Age of SF – that age when we discover the power and our passion for the genre. This should be required reading for all fans of the genre.
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford