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Award: Hugo Award for Best Novel (2012)

Among Us by Jo Walton


Jo Walton’s Among Others tells the story of 14-year-old Mori Phelps, who has fled her home in the hills of Wales to escape her half-mad and magical mother.  Still reeling from the death of her twin sister and learning to live with a crippling injury, Mori finds herself dropped on her father’s doorstep by the foster care system, even though she has never met him before.  When his sisters insist on sending her away to an upper-class boarding school, Mori finds herself removed once again from all that is familiar, including the fairy companions that she grew up with.

As a Hugo and Nebula award winner, you would expect Among Others to be something quite different and new.  It absolutely delivers.  Admittedly, I don’t read a lot of fantasy any more, but I’ve certainly read my share of farmer boy adventure novels.  Mori is no farmboy; her journey is the metaphorical one of adolescence.  Left alone in an English town where her Welsh accent marks her permanently as an outsider, Mori struggles to find connections with others.  Alone and lonely, she wishes that she had people that she could talk to, who understood her the way that her family in Wales does.  Like many lonely children, she turns towards books to entertain her as she tries to survive the last few years of her education.  And it is books that provide salvation for her, as she finds her way into a science fiction book club at the library, where she finally meets some other young people worth talking to.  Although I did not recognize most of the books that Mori discusses with such passion, Walton provides enough context that it was easy to follow along.  Mori certainly provides an education for the reader of most of the major science fiction authors and I’m certain that serious science fiction fans will enjoy that element of the novel.

For all that the book is somber, Mori’s analytical nature keeps the pages turning.  A naturally academic, Mori seeks out answers to the world around her.  When she returns to Wales for a visit, she goes seeking the fairies that she grew up with, looking for answers to the ethical questions that she has about magic.  But fairies are unreliable — instead of helping her understand, they bring Mori the sight of her sister, who has not yet progressed to the underworld.

I took a step towards her, and then I remembered her clutching me and dragging me towards the door into the hill, and stopped.  “Oh Mor,” I said.

She didn’t say anything.  She couldn’t, any more than the robin.  She was dead and the dead can’t speak.  As a matter of fact, I know how to make the dead speak.  You have to give them blood.  But it’s magic, and anyway, it would be horrible.  I couldn’t imagine doing it.

Mor’s shade gives Mori more questions than answers.  Although Mori knows that her struggle with her mother was not ended the night that her mother killed her sister, seeing Mor again makes Mori realize that she will have to confront her mother again some day.  When her mother starts sending her letters filled with magical malevolence, Mori burns them and tries to befriend the fairies in England in order to figure out what to do.  But fairies being fairies, they don’t cooperate, and Mori is left to discover enough about magic to stop her mother once and for all.

Although Mori has lost so much — a family, her health, a home, a twin — her reflections often have a delightful optimism and love of life.  While reality is dour, her secret, magical world and love of science fiction fill her wonder and keep her intellectually engaged.  It is a delight to read small nuggets like this:

And I thought all that was wasted, all that time practising up there, because Mor is dead and I can’t run and neither can Grampar, not any more.  Except it wasn’t wasted, because we remember it.  Things need to be worth doing for themselves, not just for practice for some future time.  I’m never going to win Wimbledon or run in the Olympics…but I wouldn’t have anyway.  I’m not even going to play tennis for fun with my friends, but that doesn’t mean playing it when I could was a waste.  I wish I’d done more when I could.

You can’t help cheering for a young woman that has lost so much, but still maintains hope.

There isn’t another book that I can think of that is quite like Among Others.  For the rest of this, Among Others is an enjoyable journey of a young woman that I would certainly like getting to know.  Distinctly creative, it is well worth a read, even for readers that don’t typically read fantasy or science fiction.

 

  • Publisher: Tor Books
  • Publish Date: January 3, 2012
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • ISBN: 0765331721
  • Language: English
  • Rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Genre: fantasy
Subjects: adventure, coming of age, dysfunction, family, fantasy, magic, survival, wales, youth
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