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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 62/100: The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic - Emily Croy Barker

This is one of those books in which I could get totally swept away into a different world (just like the protagonist, Nora), and I enjoyed being there so much that it was easy for me to overlook the book's shortcomings.


The world-building in the book is decent, especially the magic system and its "rules." The distinctions between wizards and magicians, the types of jobs wizards were employed in, the way they had specialties much as doctors or scientists do today, all made this feel like a place where the existence of magic was, while specialized, still part of normal life. But what made me want to stay there were the characters of Nora and the magician Aruendial; I found Nora to be relateable, not too badass nor too fluffy, and I found Aruendial to be intriguing. This is why the restrained, slow-burn romance reminiscent of (intentionally so, I think) British classics such as "Jane Eyre" and "Pride and Prejudice" worked for me. I also really liked how Nora's "talents" (a knack for memorizing poetry, a love of old books), while seemingly "useless" in her own world served her so well in this one -- poetry and spells are not so very different, and poring over old dusty volumes is probably much the same no matter what world you are in. While the overall tone of the book feels "light," there are some moments of darkness that will send a chill down your spine, and these moments are delicious.


Still, the book was not perfect -- it took quite a long time to get going, since in the first 20% of the book or so, our "thinking woman" does very little thinking at all. Yes, there's a "good reason" and yes, it's an intentional choice so that we can see her "grow," but it still got a little tedious. It also felt like one of those books in which it was "just" a series of a lot of small conflicts, many of which were resolved almost as quickly as they arose when I was expecting the tension to be more drawn out. While that might be a technical shortcoming, it was something I actually liked -- I preferred it to drawing plot points out and milking every last bit of tension out of the occurrence. I soon realized that this was a book in which characters rather than plot provided the "glue" that connected one thing to another, which may be why this book seems to get reviews that are at extreme ends of the spectrum -- if you don't like the characters, the plot probably won't be enough for you; but if you do like them, it's a lot easier for the events that comprise the plot to pass muster.


Probably my biggest pet peeve was the way that the narration, mostly in Nora's third-person point of view, would occasionally swing into Aruendial's PoV. Since it did not happen regularly enough for Aruendial to feel like a proper second viewpoint character, it just felt like sloppy and lazy writing. It decreased tension by getting us inside the head of the character who is most mysterious, even if only briefly, AND it aroused frustration that, even with Aruendial as an occasional PoV character, a lot of information was still withheld from the reader for quite a long time. The worst of both worlds, in other words.

The ending didn't bother me at all, although a lot of people rant about it being a "cliff-hanger." I disagree. I think an ending that points the character in the right direction for the rest of her life to unfold is perfectly acceptable, and I would have been okay with that even if there was no sequel forthcoming. But there is, which is even better.