The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic
by Emily Croy Barker
Rating: 3 Stars
‘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…’
I picked this one up on a whim at the library, it was mixed in with the general fiction books but the title caught my eye and I liked the idea of anything combining the world of academia and the world of magic, so I decided to give it a go. I was suffering a bit of a book hangover from The Killing Moon and was looking for something less serious and emotionally draining, something a bit frivolous really.
So I wasn’t expecting to like it quite as much as I did. It reminds me a little of Uprooted – grumpy immortal(ish) sorcerer in a tower reluctantly teaching a younger female apprentice. But the storyline and narration are very different and the sorcerer is a lot less likeable. The story is told from the perspective of an older modern-day woman struggling to find her place in the world.
I actually really like the portrayal of the ‘fae’ in this book. Ilissa and her people were interesting antagonists – very often the fae are depicted as taking human’s simply for their own fickle amusement, but here there is a purpose to it.
My favourite character is probably Hirizjahkinis, oh how I loved her and her leopardskinned demon thing. She’s a fellow wizard to Arundiel but much more interesting in my opinion – I hope there will be more of her in the next books.
At the beginning I almost put it down – the strange disconnected narrative of Nora’s time in ‘fairyland’ is very hard to get into. I understand why it’s written like this, it’s the time when she’s not ‘thinking’ when her brain has been taken over and she’s more fingerpuppet than person. But it’s very hard to slog through to get to the beginning of the actual plot.
There are, of course, pacing issues as previously mentioned. There are also various plot holes – for instance it takes a very long time for Nora to realise that her family will think something terrible has happened to her. It feels like the book could’ve done with a bit more editing.
Considering the size of the book I was expecting a standalone novel, but then it Just sort of petered off at the end. I went through the entire book expecting some form of resolution and was astonished to find that, ultimately, there was none. There should be some sort of disclaimer about this to warn unsuspecting readers like myself! After a bit of a poke around on the internet I can confirm that this is actually the first book in a series, although there is currently no projected release date for the next instalment.
Personally I could have also done without the Pride and Prejudice metaphors. They didn’t seem to fit with the story at all -it seemed more like the author was scrabbling around a bit to justify Arundiel’s stand-offish personality. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work.
In the original blurb there’s a series of read-a-like recommendations at the end – for fans of ‘Discovery of Witches’ and Lev Grossman’s ‘Magicians’ series, I’ve cut it out because as far as I can see this book has very literal in common with either of them. I once saw ‘Discovery of witches’ described, quite rightly, as ‘an older Twilight with glasses on’ and Thinking Woman is several steps above that. I’ve got very mixed feelings about Discovery too but that’s for another day.
I will probably pick up the next book as I was invested in the characters and the world, if not completely convinced. But I hope some of the issues are fixed!