Among Others by Jo Walton
Official Summary: “Startling, unusual, and irresistibly readable, Among Others is at once the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and science fiction, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.
As a child growing up in Wales, Morwenna played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. When her half-mad mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled—and her twin sister dead.
Fleeing to a father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England—a place all but devoid of true magic. There, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off….
Combining elements of autobiography with flights of imagination, this is a stunning new novel by an author whose genius has already been hailed by dozens of her peers.”
In honor of Jo Walton winning the Nebula Award for Among Others, I decided to post a review of it even though I read it when it was first published. Among Others is a lot different from Walton’s other books that I have read and, in fact, is an extremely unique book. It tells the story of Morwenna Phelps, a teen who was recently injured in an accident. Because the book is in the form of the Mori’s journal, the reader learns details of the accident slowly as they naturally unfold or are mentioned in passing in journal entries. The main focus of the book is, instead, on Mori’s time at a boarding school that she is sent to after the accident.
In many ways, I found the day-to-day story and the character of Mori more compelling than the overarching plot. Mori is a very well-developed, strong character and the details of her life, from her interactions with people at her school, to her love of science fiction and fantasy, to her disability and medical treatment, all rang very true for me and drew me through the book. This was what really kept me engaged. While the plot is entertaining, this was one of those rare books where I felt that the other elements were stronger than the plot itself.
As an example of the realism of the events in the book, I would point to the way the author deals with medical treatment. Because Mori has recently been injured and, as a result, has significant pain issues, several segments of the book deal with Mori’s medical treatments as well as her experience of the pain. These passages include detailed descriptions that feel natural and realistic for a high schooler who is chronicling her own life.
In addition to all these wonderful literary details, one of my favorite parts of her book was the way that Walton integrated science fiction and fantasy books into the story. Mori is a huge fan of these genres and throughout she discusses the books she is reading and books she has read. As a fan of science fiction, this is a fun detail, but beyond this, Walton uses these discussions to develop characters and to paint a picture of a teen for whom reading, and specifically reading genre works, is very important, something that I am sure many readers of the book will be able to understand. I loved these discussions and was impressed with how seamlessly they were integrated into the story.
For me, this was the rare book where the details of the characters and the minor events made the book more than the plot. But, I enjoyed the book greatly. The journal style used to tell the story can sometimes feel forced, but in this case, it added greatly to the story being told and gave Walton the freedom to include a lot of details and perspectives that may not have fit into another style. Without giving too much away, I will also add that this style of narration added to the book’s sense of mystery for me, which I greatly enjoyed.
Check it Out: Among Others is available in paperback and an excerpt is available on Tor.com. For an additional view of the book, see the New York Times review (though, fair warning, it gives away considerably more plot details than I have here). Those who have read the book might also be interested in reading what Jo Walton has to say about it on John Scalzi’s Big Idea.
Read Alike: If you like this and are interested in reading other science fiction, try Jo Walton’s Revisiting the Hugos series, which summarizes and reviews Hugo award winners and nominees. Or, try Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men.