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Among Others - Jo Walton

My first book for Carl's Once Upon a Time VIII fantasy reading challenge, which I'm doing from now until mid-June, is Among Others by Jo Walton.


Morwenna Phelps is a 14 year old girl from The Valleys of South Wales. She's just met her father for the first time, he left the family when Morwenna and her twin sister, Morganna, were very young. Morwenna - or 'Mori' as she's known - is now an only child as her sister has died. Mori's father lives in Shropshire in a manor house with his three sisters, triplets, but it's clear from the start that they don't want Mori so she's packed off to boarding school. Of course, there's no way that a Welsh girl from The Valleys is going to have an easy time of it at a posh English boarding school and so it comes to pass. For Mori is of course 'different'. Not only is she disabled as a result of whatever happened to her sister, she can also see fairies. 'Magic' is something that really exists in Mori's world but as a young teen she has already learnt that magic is inherently dangerous. And one of the biggest dangers as far as she is concerned is her own mother. Mori's life is incredibly difficult, bullied at school, unwelcome at her father's home, as different from others as it's possible to be, the only thing Mori can find solace in is books. Science Fiction books to be exact. She wonders if her love of this genre of fiction can save her, and then thinks of a way to bring it about...

The first thing I'll say is that Mori is a delightful narrator for this book. The story is told via her diary and is thus written in first person, a form I love because it enables the reader to really get to know the narrator... *if* of course the author has the skill. I'm pleased to report that Jo Walton has the skill. In spades. Mori's personality jumps right off the page at you, she's incredibly brave; not the kind of person to bewail her fate she just gets on with life making the best of the poor hand she's been dealt. I love her Welshness, despite being thrown into an English boarding school she's fiercly loyal to her Welsh roots and her family and very upset when she realises the school has inadvertently changed her.

But of course, what I really loved the most about young Mori was her devotion to science fiction books and, to a lesser degree, fantasy. Samuel B. Delany, Robert Heinlein, Robert Silverberg, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. Le Guin, Tolkein, to whom she's devoted, ... way too many authors to list them all to be honest. This book is a science fiction fan's idea of heaven. Mori recounts the events that are happening in her life in a very matter-of-fact way and the books she reads form a very natural part of the telling of the story: it's quite clear they are part of the very fabric of her being. It's seamlessly done - really, really clever writing.

As with all clever stories information is fed to the reader in a slow drip-feed. How Morganna died, what the problem is with the mother, what Mori's former life in The Valleys was like and so on. We watch as she grows up, her struggles at school with other pupils, her struggle to find friends and how her life is slowly transformed towards the end of the book. Her ambiguity as regards doing magic and her dealings with the fairies is a real source of unease for her, she worries constantly about what kind of person she is. Is she good or evil? We know of course and it's quite heart-breaking to see her inward struggle to make sense of it all.

I feel incredibly lucky to have happened on Among Others as my first book for the Once Upon a Time challenge. I've had it on my Kindle for a year or so and not got around to it so now was the perfect time. The author, Jo Walton, is apparently a Welsh-Canadian, not sure which part of her nationality is prevalent but the writing just felt Welsh to me. Among Others won the 2011 Nebula award for best novel and the Hugo award in 2012 for the same. I'm not remotely surprised. I'm currently reading her new book of essays about rereading science fiction, What Makes This Book so Great. Already I know I'm going to want to own it (it's a library book) and plan to stick it on my birthday list in a few weeks time.


Re: Sounds Fascinating

Funny, a Canadian book blogging friend of mine also has Welsh heritage. I honestly had no idea the Welsh flocked to North America in such numbers! Went there for the mining jobs perhaps, like my Cornish ancestors? It's very interesting.

My pleasure, I can't recommend this one highly enough.