Among others

Morwenna Phelps has had an interesting--and challenging--childhood. She and her twin sister, Morganna, grew up in Wales searching for, and playing with, the fairies who live in the local industrial ruins. Their mother, Liz, is a witch and also quite mad. When Liz attempts to take control of the fairies, the twins attempt to stop her. Morganna is killed, and Morwenna is gravely injured. She is then sent to live with the father who abandoned them as babies, and he promptly packs her off to a girls’ boarding school in western England. There’s no magic in England, or so little as not worth mentioning. The only joy left in Mor’s life is found in the science fiction and fantasy books that she consumes at an incredible rate. View

In Among others, author Jo Walton allows readers to peer over the shoulder of Morwenna Phelps from September, 1979 through February, 1980. The novel is told through Mor’s almost daily journal entries. Her voice is clear and full, of both the conviction and doubt held by most 15-year-olds as they struggle to make sense of the world around them. The plot progresses at a leisurely pace, with countless small and seemingly insignificant occurrences, some of which build in resonance and significance. 


The magic in the novel is both fascinating and frustrating. Unlike the magic encountered in most books/movies/television shows, the magic found here is indirect and uncertain. It may provide the results you want, but not in the way you were expecting. And you may never really know if it was magic that brought something about. An example is the idea that fairies would move into human ruins as those structures are reclaimed by nature, which is a wonderful premise. 


One of the joys of Among Others is Walton’s exploration and review of what is now viewed as classic science fiction and fantasy novels. Like Jim C. Hines in the Magic Ex Libris series (Libromancer and Codes born), Walton lets her “geek flag fly” by naming authors and titles that range from the well known to the somewhat obscure. Unlike Hines, whose stories have required him to create titles using dramatic license, all of the books Walton lists are real. Well-read science fiction/fantasy readers will find her commentary interesting and/or frustrating. (As when Mor decides that she will not read Lord foul's bane by Stephen Donaldson because it has “the temerity to compare itself. . . to 'Tolkien at his best.'" She goes on to say that the source of the quote, The Washington Post, “will always damn a book for me from now on. How dare they?”). Those who are not as well read could use the titles listed in the story as an excellent introduction to their own pursuit of these two genres. While the story told is both charming and insightful, Among others is foremost a love letter to the authors and science fiction/fantasy fandom of the late '70s and early '80s.


Among Others is a quirky, gentle novel. Almost everyone who values the company of books and derives pleasure from reading will find a bit, or possibly more, of themselves reflected in Mor and her journey. 


Among Others won the 2012 Nebula Award for Best Novel, the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and the British Fantasy Award. It was a nominee for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.