Thursday, September 5, 2013

Review: Among Others by Jo Walton

Among OthersAmong Others by Jo Walton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I decided to pick this book up because it won the Hugo for Best Novel, and I'd heard good things about it. In the end, I was left with an unflattering opinion of the entire award process. I can see why a lot of Hugo voters might have liked this story, but I don't think it was the best SF book to come out during the eligibility period.

The book is a series of diary entries written by Morwenna (Mori) Phelps between September 1979 and February 1980, with a brief stop in 1975. She has an injury that makes it difficult to walk, and she has a twin sister who died in some tragedy she doesn't specify until much later in the book, except that she blames her mother for it. Mori is Welsh, and the bulk of the narrative takes place in England, where she feels out of place and lonely.

When the story opens, Mori has run away from her mother, and is living with the father she never knew. His half-sisters send her away to an all-girls' boarding school, where she befriends the librarian and feels even more alone and bemoans the lack of privacy.

Mori can do magic and sees fairies, an ability she says most children grow out of. She says her mother wanted to use magic to grab power for herself, and vows never to become like her. To that end, she decides she won't use magic, except to protect against her mother.

The mother remains a shadowy figure for most of the book. She sends Mori some letters, and pictures of the twins with Mori's image burned out of them. Mori frets about her mother finding her, but the mother's presence is barely felt within the narrative. The bulk of the story is about Mori finding an SF book club at the library, making friends with the members, finding a cute boyfriend with a bad reputation, having awkward conversations with her father, who she calls by his given name, visiting Wales, and, mostly, reading SF books that were current to the late 1970s. Her comments may have been relatable to someone who's read all those books, but I was either mystified, or I didn't agree. I violently dislike Heinlein, so to hear her going on at length about what genius he is rankled, and I honestly don't think Tolkien was the literary god Mori posits him as.

Honestly, it wasn't a bad book, and I might've given it four stars, if not for all the acclaim. But I felt it was transparently pandering to a certain audience, and I was not that audience. If you grew up during that same time period and worship Heinlein and Tolkien, you'll probably like this book a lot more than I did. I just don't think the resonance with that certain audience makes this book worthy of one of the highest genre awards.

I listened to this book on audio, and I happened to listen to it with someone with a better ear for accents than mine. She pointed out how awful the Welsh accent was, and then I couldn't unhear it. The narrator's British accents were fine, but the Welsh was obnoxious and overdone. I recommend a paper copy, unless your ear for accents even worse than mine.


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