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).
Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman. During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty. Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.
Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her "real life" against the dangerous power of love and magic.
Not quite what I was anticipating—which is a bit of an issue when the book is over 500 pages!
Under normal circumstances, I adore books which include the Fae, which this one does. Nora, our main character, bumps into an odd guy on campus and he rather obscurely grants her wish for a complete change of pace in life. One assumes that he is a member of this book’s Faitoren who was inhabiting our world, instead of the alternate world that Nora is transported to.
This is very much an alternate reality book—like Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series, H. Beam Piper’s Paratime novels or Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. In this iteration, Nora gets transported into a rather medieval world which relies on magic rather than technology. Of course, she discovers some facility for magic, which saves her life from being total drudgery.
One of my main issues was the character of Aruendiel, the magician who rescues Nora from the Faitoren and assumes responsibility for her in this very, very patriarchal world. He’s no Dumbledore or Gandalf—he’s cranky, prejudiced, and arrogant. His relationship with Nora is a very reluctant one, consisting more of feeling responsible for her than any affection. Then when the balance seems to twist towards Aruendiel wanting more of their relationship, he isn’t willing to unbend enough to verbalize it, leaving Nora really to twist in the wind, wondering if she’s imagining things. Just to confuse things even more, Aruendiel seems to try fairly often to foist her on other men as a wife or he is searching for a “window” to send her home to her own reality. There’s a limited amount of speculation about the magician’s age and I gained the feeling that he was way too old to be a viable love-interest for Nora.
There is some exploration of the notion that Nora, coming from our reality, doesn’t act enough like a (subservient) woman in the magic time line. But the chances to explore the nature of the relations between men and women gets short shrift (except on the many occasions when Nora is pissed off about it). She basically works like a galley slave on Aruendiel’s estate except when he grants her special privileges to study or practice magic.
Although Nora ends up feeling attracted to Aruendiel, I just couldn’t feel the basis for it. He was too old, too arrogant, too prejudiced against women. I could understand some respect for him as a teacher (although he didn’t seem to be all that great an instructor, honestly), but beyond that was beyond my ability to suspend my disbelief.
Nevertheless, there’s a lid for every pot and I’m sure that this book will suit a lot of readers better than it did me.