Fifteen-year-old Morwenna lives in Wales with her twin sister and a mother who spins dark magic for ill. One day, Mori and her mother fight a powerful, magical battle that kills her sister and leaves Mori disabled. Devastated, Mori flees to her long-lost father in England. Adrift, outcast at boarding school, Mori retreats into the worlds she knows best: her magic and her books.
Why did I want to read? It’s about fairies, and fandom.
When I was recommended Among Others by a friend, they were surprised that I hadn’t read it, and now I see why. It’s basically the most “me” book I could ever imagine – a coming-of-age fantasy novel with fairies and books. So many books.
Among Others is basically a diary of a Welsh girl called Mori, who is the daughter of a black witch and who can see fairies. She has moved to a boarding school after fighting her mother and preventing her from doing black magic, an act which resulted in the death of her twin sister. However, only about 25% of the book is about Mori actually dealing with that epic battle and its fallout – the other 75% is basically her talking about the sff she’s read, and joining a book club. It’s great.
Bookish Chats and Found Family
‘It doesn’t matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.’
Is it self-indulgent to read a fantasy book about a girl who loves science fiction and fantasy? Perhaps. But it was what made Among Others honestly one of the funnest and heartwarming books I’ve read. While there are a lot of books that focus on aspects of fandom that I’ve read and loved, there are very few which focus on actual bookish fandoms, and I loved the unique voice of Mori, who would shift from one minute talking about the dire magical situation she was facing, to complaining about the characterisation in a novel she just recently finished. What a mood.
Because of her intense focus on reading, Mori was obviously a very relatable protagonist. By far the most engrossing parts of the story are the glimpses into the way her mind works, both in regards to the fiction she reads but also the world. Feeling like an outcast at the loss of the person closest to her, the way others perceive her disability, and the fact that she’s a huge, awkward nerd, Mori’s snarky commentary on her school and the people around her. The tone of the book was equal parts flippant and incredibly serious, and the writing style immediately captured me. Because it’s a diary, sometimes Mori’s narrative voice becomes brutally harsh and honest, which made me like it all the more. She does feel pretty real.
Mori’s outcast status brings me onto my favourite part of the book – its use of the Found Family trope. Obviously, because this book is focused on the concept of fandom, it lends itself well to this subject, as we’ve all made friends through the quest for like-minded people who like the same show/book/tv as us. In Among Others, Mori finds support through talking about books with anyone and everyone who will listen, from her grandfather, to the (amazing, awesome) school librarian, to the book group which becomes the centre of her social life. Because Mori is so loud and opinionated on these diary pages, but so quiet in the real world, it was such an amazing moment when she finally got to talk to other characters and show her personality to those around her, after you’ve become so intimately acquainted with it. Walton captured the feeling of “finding your people” so well, particularly with accompanied by the bittersweet knowledge that Mori’s first set of people (her witchy family) have been lost.
Magic and Fairy Encounters
Honestly, this book could’ve just been the fictional diary of a nerdy schoolgirl at boarding school in the 80s, and I probably would’ve loved it. But it’s a fantasy book, and Mori’s a witch, who encounters fairies in the wild and who has to find magical protection from the mother that hunts her down.
I loved how magic is at the peripheries of this story, and the reader never fully sees or understands it. We never know exactly what it was that her mother was doing to make Mori and her sister act against her, and make Mori run away. And magic itself is just a vague force that Mori seems to be able to do, but which doesn’t have set rules or codes which we can understand it by. Whenever magic does happen, its always recounted by Mori who takes it for granted, and so it’s always described in a nonchalant manner. Even Mori doesn’t quite know the boundaries of magic – she doesn’t know what the fairies she interacts with actually are, and I loved the moments in the text when she was trying to work out exactly how her magic had worked. If she casts a spell now, how does it manage to make things happen in the past? And what are the acceptable boundaries of usage, without impinging on the free will of others?
I loved the fairies in the book and the way they were very, very much not human. They were literally otherworldly and in no way recognisable as human. The fact that they didn’t speak in a discernible language, or work on a human understanding, was very unique and original. It was cool that magic and the fey worked without any seeming rules or structure that humans could understand, which contrasted obviously with the books that Mori was reading.
I also loved that magic and the fey remained unquestionably real. Because Mori is our narrator and our only witch, it would’ve been so easy to make it into a magical realism text where the magic isn’t actually real. But when another character is introduced and asks for her to prove that magic exists, she just does. Job done. No more questions asked. That element of the book was refreshingly straightforward.
If you like sff books (I hope you do, if you’re on this blog), strong heroines, and unconventional fantasy worlds/narrators, Among Others is definitely worth reading. It’s fun, heartwarming, and obviously written with awkward bookish geeks in mind.