I’ll cut straight to the chase here: I loved this book. I read the first of Walton’s alternate history series, Farthing, and liked it, but in a sort of intellectual what-if way, which is the way alternate histories often take me. My reaction to Among Others was immediate, heartfelt, and had almost nothing intellectual about it. I mean, when I think about the concepts, I find them interesting, but that has little to do with why I loved the book.
This is a book about books, and even more specifically a book about sf/f books. There’s a very early tip-off here, when on the first page Mori says, “My sister and I called it Mordor, and we’d never been there on our own before. We were ten years old.”
The story takes the form of the diary of Morwenna Phelps–Mori to her friends–in the first months after she runs away from her mad and wicked mother to England and the father she’s never known. She’s fought her mother and won, but lost almost everything else. In the new world of boarding school and county relatives, books are her solace. “I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books,” she says at the beginning.
In some ways this book is a chronicle of love for books, a diary of a year’s reading. In other ways it’s a coming-of-age story, deftly handled. And in still other ways, it’s the story of what happens after the war is won. I’ve always been fascinated by this idea–I once started a very bad novel centered around that. And it’s a fairy story, though not quite as you’d expect it.
Even though I haven’t read most of the sci-fi mentioned here (I know, I know), it didn’t matter. What mattered was the love, the glorying in the story which is entirely familiar. Thinking about it now, I suspect that Wim is a bit of a Gary Stu, but just a little. If your Gary Stu-ish tastes run towards people who have intelligent arguments about books with you.
I also had to stop reading this book halfway through. It was when I had just found out that I didn’t get a job and I couldn’t read any books for about 24 hours and even after that the thought of a book about books, where librarians are central characters seemed like it would be too painful. So I set it down, but even when I picked it up, I slipped right back into the story without any loss of interest or delight (NOT always the case). I cried at the end, always a sign of a good book.
The whole book is marked with little slips of paper at the place where there are quotes I want to write down, but here’s one of my favorites, to leave off with.
Harriet! I’ve never met anyone called Harriet in real life. I had a brief fantasy about her being Harriet Vane, because she’d be about the right age for that, except that Harriet Vane would be addressed as Lady Peter, and anyway she’s fictional. I can tell the difference, really I can.
Book source: public library (but marked to buy)
Book information: Tor, 2010; adult (content-wise, I think this is true, but it is a story about a teenager and I suspect that older teens would like it)