Review of Among Others by Jo Walton


After reading Tooth and Claw, I wanted to read more of Jo Walton’s books. Googling her immediately brought up Among Others, so it was a no-brainer to go and get hold of a copy. But would I find this next novel – so completely different from dragonkind set in a Victorian backdrop – equally engrossing?

among othersWhen Mori discovers that her mother is using black magic, she decides to intervene. The ensuing clash between mother and daughter leaves Mori bereft of her twin sister, crippled for life and unable to return to the Welsh Valleys that were her own kingdom. Mori finds solace and strength in her beloved books. But her mother is bent on revenge, and nothing and no one – not even Tolkien – can save her from the final reckoning.

This is a remarkable book. I’ve never read anything quite like it and – for once – the OTT phrase on the cover by Jeff Vandermeer A wonder and a joy is absolutely spot on. For starters, there is a complete backstory that would easily fill a novel in the scenario that builds up to this book. Among Others is dealing with the aftermath. What happens next, once the protagonist has averted the End of the World at great personal cost. And make no mistake, the cost is heartbreakingly high. More so, because Mori doesn’t spend all her time telling you how desperately unhappy and bereft she is. Only mentions the constant pain when it becomes difficult to carry books, or walk distances to see fairies.

The writing is extraordinary in the pin-sharp description of the everyday, alongside the remarkable and Mori’s character is so compellingly realistic and nuanced, I’m still undecided whether there is a large chunk of autobiographical detail wrapped up in this book. And I don’t really care – other than to fervently hope, for her sake, there isn’t too much that is borrowed from Walton’s own life. Memorable and remarkable art invariably is a fusion of imagination and reality – and this is both a memorable and remarkable book. Certainly the most amazing book I’ve read this year.

As a bookworm from before I could walk – my mother would hand me her copy of Reader’s Digest as a baby in my highchair and I would leaf through every page without tearing a single one, apparently – I fully understand Walton’s passion for books that sings off the page. I, too, used to spend hours in the library compulsively reading as a girl and teenager, though didn’t get completely immersed in the joys of speculative fiction until much later in my life. Walton’s description of the books and authors who sustain Mori during this dark period, and the handful of people she discovers who share her passion, reverberated with an answering chime of recognition.

So given that the book drew me in right from the beginning, was the ending to such an unusual story completely satisfactory? It was a worry that started in the last third of the book, to be honest. I was dreading getting to the end of this one – partly because the journey through it was so intensely pleasurable, and partly because I worried that the ending might spoil the rest of it… I’m very picky about endings and there are a whole slew of otherwise excellent books that, in my opinion, were ruined by inadequate, unsatisfactory finales. I got myself in a lather over nothing. The ending to this book hit exactly the right note, completing the story arc with complete authority and leaving me feeling uplifted and sad, all at the same time.

If you don’t read another book this year, track down Among Others. Even if you don’t love it as much as I do, I can guarantee you haven’t read anything else quite like it.

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