July 12, 2011

BOOKS: Among Others, Jo Walton (2011)

By all rights, I should hate this book. Just look at all the things it's got going against it:
  • It's a novel in the form of a teenager's diary. Even worse, it's in the form of a "how tragic to be a misunderstood genius like me" diary.
  • It's set mostly at an English boarding school for girls.
  • It's got frackin' fairies in it.
  • What you would expect to be the principal action of the book -- the heroine's world-saving battle against her evil mother's attempt to become a world-dominating dark witch, a battle in which the heroine is seriously disabled and her twin sister killed -- happens offstage, before the book even begins. (There is a second battle with the evil mother near the end of the book, but it's remarkably brief and anticlimactic.)
Given all that, it's a miracle that I finished the book, and I can't figure out what it is that kept me reading. There's no plot to speak of and no particularly interesting characters, and Walton's prose style is functional, but not compelling or distinctive in any way.

Our heroine is Mori, a Welsh girl who's left home to live with the father she barely knows; he's packed her off to boarding school. She's unhappy there; she can't take part in athletics or other school activities, doesn't fit in with the other girls, and (worst of all) the few fairies there are in this part of England are nothing like the Welsh fairies she's used to.

What joy Mori does have in life comes from books, and she spends a lot of time droning on about how wonderful this book or that book is, or how excited she is to have made new friends at the library's science fiction book club. (She's not even allowed to enjoy that small pleasure without burying it in guilt; she's afraid that these people haven't come into her life willingly, but have been forced into it by a minor spell she cast.)

Maybe it's the librarian in me, unable to hate anyone who loves books (especially SF books) as much as Mori and Walton clearly do, that kept me reading. Maybe it was the belief that surely something had to actually happen eventually. I can't quite figure it out. It's a strange book, and though I can't exactly recommend it, I didn't loathe it the way I would expect to loathe a book with all the above-mentioned bullet points. How's that for inconclusive ambivalence for you?

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