Sunday, June 22, 2014

Wishing and Wizards: The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker
Viking, 2013

Reader's stumble from reality into another world full of magic (and misogyny) in Emily Croy Barker's debut novel. Nora's doctoral dissertation is going nowhere and she's just run into ex-boyfriend (who recently got engaged to someone else) at a wedding. Desperate to clear her head, she goes for a walk and ends up in another world. At first, it seems great. She's beautiful here, adored even, and has a whirlwind romance with a prince. Only problem is, it's not real. Nora has actually been put under multiple enchantments by the evil Ilissa (who is now her mother-in-law). Thanks to the help of the reluctant and ornery magician Arundiel, she escapes, becoming a fixture in his household. She's determined to learn magic herself so she can get home, or at least survive, but does she have what it takes to master it? And does she have time with Ilissa hunting her down?

Barker has clearly put a lot of thought into the world Nora finds herself in. The best word to describe it is layers: the differences between mere wizards and magicians, class distinctions, types of magic, and even gender politics. As an academic, Nora experiences culture shock in many ways, the strongest of which is not the presence of magic or lack of electricity, but the misogyny. Women are very much second class citizens, with dowries to be arranged and a woman's purity the difference between life and death. In these ways, I found the novel to be interesting. Not only is it as if Nora has traveled to a different world, but also backwards in time.

Arundiel, the magician who saves Nora and begrudgingly becomes her teacher in the magical arts, was the character I was most interested in. Is he perfect? His past and hands are blood-soaked, but I respected his intelligence. His arc and growth were subtle, but definitely present, and he's the person I was most interested in hearing from.

The biggest criticism I have about this book is the length, and subsequently, the pacing of the plot. I'm not opposed to long books, so this novel's 563 pages did not daunt me at first. However, I believe that no matter how long a book is, every scene should have a point. That was where I struggled with Thinking Woman. While fantasy and science fiction novels tend to be longer by nature due to the intricate world building that must often take place, the pacing of this novel was often slow. The second quarter of the book was especially hard for me, and I felt that exposing the falsehoods of Nora's "fairy tale" could have happened much more quickly. The plot didn't truly pick up in my eyes until literally halfway through when Nora finally starts to study magic herself. The ending was left open, which makes sense as it is indicated on the author's Goodreads profile that she is working on a sequel.

If you are a fan of fantasy novels and don't mind books that take their time, then check out The Woman's Guide to Real Magic.  I borrowed this from my library and might be willing to check out a sequel from there in the future if the description strikes my fancy and the writing seems tighter (aka shorter), but that's a big if.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Emily Croy Barker's Website
Emily Croy Barker on Twitter

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