First Hugo novel done! And it was a great way to start off. I loved this book and just may have found a great new author to dig into. After I finish all the other Hugo reading, and my WOT re read in preparation for the last book to come out…
It’s a good problem to have too many books to read.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Jo Walton has written a love letter to science fiction novels in writing this book. The story is ostensibly one of loss, loneliness and trying to get by and grow up in a foreign environment. The main character uses science fiction/fantasy novels to both escape from and learn how to deal with her new and difficult reality.
Mor is a girl on the cusp of puberty from rural Wales and after experiencing a terrible tragedy she is forced to attend boarding school by her estranged fathers family. She lives in fear of her witch mother and in mourning for her lost identical twin but somehow she has to go on living and find her own way in the world. There is magic but not like I’ve ever read before. It is a seductive and dangerous kind of magic that has ethically ambiguous consequences and Mor debates about whether or not it is ever justifiable to use something that could have such a drastic effect on the world for her own needs.
The story happens over about a year of Mor’s life. Written as diary entries she details her relationships with the other students and the few townspeople she meets but most of all she discusses the books she reads. This novel has an impressive reading list hidden in it’s pages for those who would like a thorough education on the masters of science fiction and fantasy, complete with brief editorials of her opinions of the author and their material. The plot and these descriptions are delicately woven together so that the story progresses almost without the reader realizing it. It’s not slow necessarily but it’s painfully realistic in that there are long periods of Mor simply plowing through several books a week and trying to make it through the challenge of school. It builds slowly and the climactic end event comes up on you suddenly and without much warning.
The true genius of this novel lies in the near constant references to other books and how reading those books can change a persons perspective on life. Reading it seems like having a one sided conversation with the author about how truly great stories can impact the reader and expand our ways of thinking and she uses Mor to illustrate the point through the actions she takes. I found the experience to be ethereal and fully engaging and I was left fulfilled by the end but a bit sad that the conversation was over.
I would say this book is for anyone with even a passing interest in sci fi. For those who don’t have a passion for reading be warned after reading this you just might find one developing.