Kirsten Reviews: The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker
The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker
An imaginative story of a woman caught in an alternate world—where she will need to learn the skills of magic to survive Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman. During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty. Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true. Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her "real life" against the dangerous power of love and magic. For lovers of Lev Grossman's The Magicians series (The Magicians and The Magician King) and Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy (A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night).
The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker is a leisurely paced fantasy that attempts to give nods to such pieces of classic literature as Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, all the while building something in the fantasy genre.
In what is a familiar premise, Nora, the protagonist, is attending a friend’s wedding, wanders off by herself, and ends up in another world, the land of the Faitoren. What appears to be a beautiful place with attractive people and parties is not what it seems, and she ends up having to escape or be trapped.
Unfortunately, there’s no way she knows of to get home, and so Nora has to essentially build another life in this world. She finds some help from a magician named Aruendiel, who helps teach her and also offers protection from the Faitoren try to find and capture her.
This other world has a rich history and culture, down to literature, the types of magic, and even the speech of men and women is given careful consideration as to how it can limit someone’s station and power. Interestingly, poetry is recognized as extremely powerful, and as Nora learns the language of Ors, named after the country, she gains more knowledge of magic.
One downside to this book is that there is sometimes more telling than showing. Having Nora be confused about things that she should, as a scholar, have some clue about, or be able to make educated guesses seems out of place. At other times, there is a lot of information shared directly, when it would be better to have Nora make the discoveries on her own.
Although the world is impressively painted, the plot feels jerky at times, and the sometimes abrupt shifts in point of view are not able to prevent some sections from feeling overlong. However, overall, the plot is able to tie itself together in such a way that the inevitable climactic showdown is enjoyable, but clearly crafted for a sequel.
While characterization and other issues need to be addressed in the next book, the world is a place that offers a deeper exploration of gender dynamics, power, and the innate potency of words and poetry that’s bound to be expanded on in the next book.