"WE THOUGHT WE WERE living in a fantasy landscape when actually we were living in a science fictional one," writes Mori, the protagonist of Jo Walton's brilliantly odd new novel Among Others. "I named the dramroads after places in The Lord of the Rings when I should have recognized that they were from The Chrysalids."
Dramroads are paths created by long-dead mining operations, one of many relics of the industry that shaped the South Wales countryside where Mori and her twin sister were raised. But now Mori's sister is dead, and Mori has fled her childhood home to escape her mother, who is crazy, and may have been responsible for the death of Mori's twin, and who is also quite possibly an evil witch determined to take over the world.
Mori chronicles these events in the journal entries that comprise Among Others, which Walton has described as a mythologization of the events of her own life: As she put it on John Scalzi's blog, "I was writing fantasy about a science-fiction reader who had a lot of the same things happen to her that happened to me." As such, there's a little bit of fantasy (fairies! Evil witch mom!) grounded in a whole lot of teen girl stuff: family drama, fretting over being the only Welsh student at her boarding school, and curiosity about boys and sex, all of which is filtered through the genre fiction that Mori adores. ("There's no sex, hardly any love stuff at all, in Middle Earth, which always made me think yes, the world would be better off without it," she writes.)
Is the book's magic real, or is it Mori's metaphorical attempt to process the difficult circumstances of her life? It's not clear, and it doesn't matter, because what Among Others is really about (and where it asserts an intellectual and critical tone that marks it firmly as an adult novel, rather than YA) is books: Mori devours sci-fi and fantasy novels and crams her journal with descriptions of the books she's read, from Roger Zelazny and Ursula K. Le Guin to Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams to Piers Anthony and Spider Robinson. "I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books," Mori writes. And while she bears quite a lot in this outstandingly original novel, the books get her through in the end.