Friday, September 6, 2013

When a book has won so many awards, it comes with expectations

Ah, literary awards. Such a double-edged sword in the life of a reader. If a novel, say, like Jo Walton's Among Others, has won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards, you know that it can go both ways. One is that you'll be happy that the novel lived up to your expectations, and another is finishing the book and thinking that you missed something. You just didn't appreciate it that much. Unfortunately, the latter is what I felt when I finished Among Others.

All right, I don't think that Among Others isn't good. I just felt that it wasn't good enough; I was hoping for a wow factor. I was waiting for that glorious moment when I'd be blown away by all the fantasy elements melding together. I was hoping for magic. What I do get though is a beautiful coming-of-age story of a 15-year-old girl who sees fairies and who may or may not possess the ability to do magic.

At the start of the novel, there's poor Morwenna Phelps, the main character of Among Others. She's forced to live with her father who she hasn't seen for the longest time. Apparently, Mori's mother, a seemingly crazy woman who has her hands deep in black magic, is out to seek Mori. Why? Because Mori thwarted her mother's evil plans of becoming a powerful being. The cost of this was high for Mori though, for it involved a car accident that killed her twin sister and left her somewhat crippled.

So Mori is then whisked from her Welsh origins to live with his father, Daniel, and his 3 sisters in the English countryside. Daniel has other plans for her though, as he enrolls Mori in an exclusive boarding school, where, naturally, Mori, is treated as an outcast. Mori then discovers one thing that allows father and discover to bond—their shared love for fantasy and SF books. It becomes clear in Among Others that this love for this particular kind of genre is significant. Mori is one SF and fantasy geek, having a deep love for Tolkien, Silverberg, Vonnegut, Lackey, Asimov, and other fantasy and SF greats. Her father introduces her to Herbert and Dune. The way Daniel lets this love for books grow in Mori is endearing.

Things pick up even more for Mori when she discovers a book club and is asked to join this like-minded group of individuals who have a deep passion for fantasy and SF. It is in the book club where Mori falls in love, where Mori finds the courage to speak out (and to speak out a lot), and basically just grow into her confident self.

But let's not forget Mori's mother, the dark witch. She's probably the only fantastical character in the novel, except for the fairies that Mori sees, which somehow don't figure prominently in the story. The novel's end has Mori confronting her mother in a somewhat anticlimatic manner, in my own opinion. Still, it's a happy ending, and one that makes clear that Among Others is, at its heart, a coming-of-age tale.

Again, there isn't any clear cut use of magic in Jo Walton's multi-awarded  novel. The opening sequence had my hopes up, but in the end, the reader is simply made to speculate whether it was magic that Mori wielded or not. It makes you think, which is definitely not a bad thing. If you're looking for something heavy on the fantasy though, then you're better off reading something else.

Read this book if:
  1. You like your fantasy subtle.
  2. You love unusual coming-of-age tales.
  3. You'll read anything that has won the Hugo and the Nebula.