With her new novel, World Fantasy Award winner Jo Walton, who was born in Wales and now lives in Montreal, delivers a rarity in this post-Harry Potter, post-Twilight world: a novel focused on young adult characters that never panders and never condescends to its adult readers.
Written in the form of diary entries, Among Others is the story of 14-year-old Morwenna Phelps. Mor grew up in Wales, in a world steeped in magic and mystery. She and her twin sister, daughters of a witch, were able to see fairies, and to perform deceptively simple rituals that have the power to affect the real world. (A flower thrown into a pond of factory waste, for example, results in the factory closing.) The novel begins with Mor being sent to boarding school in the aftermath of her sister’s death. As she struggles to fit in at school, her backstory gradually emerges: her sister was killed, and Mor herself injured, when they faced off against their mother, who was seeking to gain dangerous magical powers.
Over the course of the novel, Mor attempts to find her place in the world and to reckon with the perils and promise of her magic. Much of the book revolves around science fiction novels, which Mor devours voraciously. Her reading forms her worldview and, ultimately, dictates how she finds community, support, and love.
Walton writes with an easy grace, capturing Mor’s voice in all its conflicting aspects. Readers are able to see behind the walls she builds to protect herself, and witness her suffering, questioning, and learning. When her mother re-emerges as a threat, Mor’s reaction is free of histrionics and integrated into her adolescent self-reflection.
Walton has written a novel of ideas and genuine emotion. It thrills in its humanity and its characters’ grappling toward understanding. True, the ending feels a bit rushed, but that’s of little consequence: Among Others is powerful, magical stuff.