I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Startling, unusual, and yet irresistably 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 SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.
Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled--and her twin sister dead.
Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England–a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, 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…
As a soldier in the army against ignorance (a library worker), how could I help but be charmed by this book? It is, in many ways, a testament to the ways that libraries and librarians can make a difference in people’s lives. I was astonished last year when I realized that I had now worked 30 years in the library field, but looking back it should not have been a big surprise. I clearly remember the thrill that I got on the first day that I was allowed into the “big kids’ library” in our small town school. The satisfaction of finding books that engaged and moved me—starting simply with Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series and culminating when I discovered H. Rider Haggard and J.R.R. Tolkien.
That is the second reason that Among Others charmed me—I have read science fiction all of my reading life and have appreciated its way of getting me to look at my world from new angles. I have been working my way chronologically through a long list of classic science fiction and fantasy for the last three years and am just moving into the 1980’s decade, so many of the works referenced in Among Others were fresh in my mind. In fact, I was reading Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast at the same time that I was reading about Morwenna’s discovery of it as a newly published work.
I’m sure many adolescents go through the phase of feeling like they don’t fit in and struggling to find people with whom they click—and it’s very difficult in a rural or small town situation, where numbers of children in your own age group are limited, so I could relate to Morwenna’s struggle. I was also fortunate as a farm child to have access to a university extension program—we received regular boxes of books, containing what the university librarians considered appropriate for children, including loads of fairy tales, Greek mythology, and classic books. I especially appreciated the mythology and longed to see centaurs, Pegasus, and dryads for myself, but these seemed to be delicate Mediterranean creatures that did not frequent the Canadian prairies. I didn’t encounter Mary Renault’s work back then, but I think that is an omission that I will have to correct, as Morwenna and I share similar tastes.
I love how involved we can become in these fictional works—like Morwenna, I can always count on LOTR to completely immerse me, despite the number of times I have taken that journey. I treasure the books that I can read repeatedly and happily, as well as those that deprive me of sleep because I simply can’t set them down.
Recommended for library and book lovers, science fiction readers, and those who grew up in rural surroundings (especially if you are all of the above).