Among Others by Jo Walton – 5/5 stars
Her mother is a witch, her twin sister is dead and crippled 15 year old Mori finds herself fleeing her beloved Wales to a father she barely knows and a life in England in this magical coming of age tale by Jo Walton.
This isn’t a nice story, and this isn’t a fairy story. But it is a story about fairies, so feel free to think of it as a fairy story. It’s not like you’d believe it anyway.
The first thing worth mentioning to younger readers, scratching their heads at the lack of smartphones and tablets in this story, is that it’s set in the early 80s, a time which looking back now seems fairly primitive in terms of technology (does the ZX Spectrum still count?) It’s a good choice of era, because it’s modern enough to feel quite contemporary and relevant, but is still far enough in the past for a fuzz of nostalgia to blur the harder edges of the time. It feels funny referring to the 80s as vintage (after all, I was there, albeit as a small child!) but it’s important in the context of this story because it makes it easier to suspend belief and accept the more fantastical aspects of the story.
15 year old Morwenna (Mori) has a showdown with her mother, who brings new meaning to the term “evil witch”. In the ensuing battle, Mori’s twin sister is killed and Mori herself is permanently injured and forced to use a stick to help her walk. As the story opens, Mori is preparing to go and live with her father, whom she barely knows because her grandfather (Grampar) is too ill to look after her. Mori has to adapt to life away from everything she knows, getting used to living with her changed body and with the fear that her mother will find her.
How was it?
I really enjoyed this book. I suppose I’m the opposite of Mori in that I moved from England to Wales around 12 years ago, but I could really relate to that feeling of not only missing your old friends and life, but the land itself. Especially when you leave the area you’ve grown up in and you’re leaving behind all those pockets where the wild creeps in; the footpaths, fields and hills that feel like only you know about them. So it’s easy to accept the idea of Mori’s wild places being peopled by fairies and nature spirits.
I’m not normally much of a fan of stories told in diary style (epistolary if you want the proper word for it!), but I thought it worked really well here. Mori is so self aware and her narrative has quite a wry, almost sceptical undertone that balances out all the fairies and magic. The way that everyday details are mixed in with the more epic events works well at introducing a bit of distance before the fantasy elements become overwhelming and they introduce an intriguing measure of doubt. I have to say as well that I love the way she measure out her life in books! It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one, even if Mor is fictional!
Without wanting to give too much of the plot away, I can say that even after I’d finished reading, I still wasn’t sure whether the magic and fairies were real. But I don’t think it matters. What does matter is that this is a book that takes the scary issues of getting over trauma and growing up, it recognises that actually, those things can be dark, foreboding and larger than life when you’re a teenager, and you come out the other side feeling fairly positive about the whole thing.
Teenagers and young people going through that awkward stage between childhood and adulthood, where nothing quite fits anymore. Older readers wanting a bit of nostalgia about their teenage years