Jo Walton

The Ladies Who Could Have Been…

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My shelves are filled with ladies. I’m a fan of Leia and Rey; I adore Xena and Gabrielle; Buffy and Charmed are my sick day go-tos. I have feminist SFF coming out of my ears. But I spend a lot of time wondering if it’s really THEM that I like. Something about the Strong Female Protagonist is always going to grab me, but sometimes it seems like the Chinese takeout of the speculative fiction world: tasty and fun, but not always satisfying.

What I really want in my female characters has never been strength for strength’s sake. I want them to be rivers that run deep even when they look shallow. When I think about my favorite ladies, they tend to fit that mold. It’s not hard to see the complexity in Buffy’s character as the seasons go along.

I think what may be odder are the female characters I like who aren’t in the typical mold. I like many characters set up to be side characters and many of the main SFPs I can’t stand. It’s an interesting thing I’ve been thinking about lately. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Among Others by Jo Walton

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It’s been a week or two since I read this one, but the more I think about Among Others, the more I like it. I’ll be the first to admit it, this story is total sucker-bait for a scifi nerdlette who loves character building and magic that just may be someone’s hallucinations. It follow Mor, a young girl from Wales who has escaped from her mother’s home after an accident killed her twin sister. Mor has bunkered down with her father’s family and is attending boarding school far from home, hoping against hope that her mother who may or may not have magical powers won’t find her.

The best part of this story is Mor. She’s the kind of 16 year old girl that feels so familiar to me. She loves books. She’s smart but spends a lot of time in fantasy land. Mor is funny and clever in a way that’s very accurate to her age. Yes, she’s a bit angst-y (what teenager isn’t) but she makes sense.

Walton spends a lot of time with the idea of grief and family illness. She looks at the way they create complex relationships between family units as a whole. Mor has just lost her sister, which she attributes to her mother’s mental instability combined with volatile magic. But Walton doesn’t just leave the blame solely in that relationship. Mor’s grief affects the way she perceives her largely absent father, her aunt and grandfather who lived with the twins, and herself. In this way, Walton’s portrayal of grief and family mental illness is very accurate. Mor doesn’t just mourn her sister, she blames her mother for the part she played; she holds her father accountable for leaving the girls in a vulnerable position; and she strongly believes that her aunt, who knows about both her mother’s instability and magic, should have done more to protect the twins.

The magic system Walton uses is complicated, largely because the reader is never quite sure if it’s actually magic or the fantasies of a young girl who reads more than may be healthy. Mor’s magic is conducted through faries who look like trees or rocks and who only speak Welsh. If something goes wrong, she’s pretty convinced it’s because of the magic, but Mor is clear, magic doesn’t work in obvious ways; magic almost always looks like something that could have just happened on it’s own. The reader is often left guessing. I really liked that aspect of the story.

The book has a lot going for it, and it’s the kind of book that sticks with you after you’ve read it. No, it’s not your typical fantasy, but it’s enjoyable in a slower-paced, more literary way. If nothing else, I immediately went out and got another Walton book, just to see what her other stories have to offer.

Overall, a 4/5.