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

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

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Buy The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Rachel Holmes
Reviewed by Rachel Holmes
Summary: A modern fairy tale for grown ups, following Nora as she accidentally stumbles upon another world and encounters magic, spells, fantasy lands and unusual characters. This novel has a lot of potential to transport the reader to an exciting fantasy world full of adventure and jeopardy, but unfortunately, does not quite live up to it.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 576 Date: July 2014
Publisher: Penguin
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1-405-91309-6

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Feeling the need for a little escapism and fantasy reading, I chose this debut novel by Emily Croy Barker, expecting an enchanted but modern fairy tale for grown ups. However, I have to say, I was a little disappointed. The book starts out brilliantly, introducing us to Nora in her mundane life as she struggles to write her university thesis whilst dealing with a relationship breakdown, then by chapter two, suddenly transports the reader to a magical other-world, rather like Alice in Wonderland or Harry Potter. We then follow Nora as she meets the enchanting, beautiful, Ilissa in a land where everything turns out to be too good to be true and looks are very much deceiving. Nora is literally locked into marriage with Ilissa's son Raclin and we learn that her only way out of this entrapment is through the help of magician Aruendiel, an enemy of Ilissa and from another land named Uland. A promising start, suggesting unexpected events, conflicts, a fast paced story and twists to come. Unfortunately, for me, the intrigue soon faded and the exciting plot beyond this never really materialised.

Barker's main characters, however, were clearly well thought out and had lots of depth to them, for example Nora, Ilissa, Aruendiel and the magician's housekeeper, Mrs Toristel. I loved how Nora's relationship with each one was explored and developed over time, particularly that with Aruendiel, although I would have liked to have discovered more about Ilissa from her point of view and seen more conflict between her and the others. There was a particular part in the novel where Hirizjahkinis (a great fantasy character name!) reports back to Aruendiel about Ilissa and a magic chalice which, in my opinion, would have been great to read first hand, adding action and jeopardy to the novel.

There were a couple of elements I would have liked clarity on that Barker seemed to touch on in a few chapters, then forget they had ever been mentioned. For example, Nora's friend Maggie, from the real world, is introduced in the first chapter and Nora begins writing imaginary letters to her from Uland, clearly missing her. However, this soon tails off and Maggie is rarely mentioned again. I would have also liked to have discovered more about Nora's family at the beginning, especially as they become rather prevalent towards the end.

The references to Pride and Prejudice throughout gave the novel a continuous theme, serving as a character point and a link to the real world, which I did enjoy. I also thought the historic parallels drawn between the book and the society in Uland were clever and insightful, narrowing the gap between real world and fantasy world for Nora and providing her with at least one home comfort in a place where she struggled to understand the language, never mind the customs.

I have to say though, the ending was rather disappointing for me, and, without spoiling the plot, I expected something a little less mundane. I felt Barker had taken the easy option here and would have preferred a conclusion a little less 'safe'. I have heard that Barker may be writing a sequel though, and if so, I do hope she chooses not to err on the side of caution next time, as this debut could have been a brilliant story.

Overall, this novel was not short on imagination from the author- she chose some great character names, added elements of magic and spells, described the language of Ors that was spoken in the other world and included history of the main characters and lands. However, I just wish she had taken it all a bit further as I believe if you're going to write a five hundred plus page, far-fetched fantastical novel, you may as well go all out and let your imagination run wild!

For more grown up modern magic try reading The Enchantment Emporium (Enchantment Emporium 1) by Tanya Huff

Buy The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker at Amazon.com.

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