The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

16158565Author: Emily Croy Barker
Release Date: August 1, 2013
Publisher: Pamela Dornman Books, Penguin
Source: Edelweis DRC, NetGalley DRC
Genre(s): Fantasy, Romance

Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Spoilers:  Low
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This book took me a good two months to read. Usually you would probably think, “Oh, that must be a bad sign.” But surprisingly despite that long amount of time I really came away liking this book. Looking back I’m not really sure why it took me so long to finish. I read several other books in between – most of them easy to read YA novels. I always, always just found myself coming back to this one. Reading it in bits and pieces. Savouring it almost like you would a favorite restaurant you really enjoyed but were too afraid to eat at regularly lest it lose it’s appeal.

Part of it is probably that I’m still easing into ‘high fantasy.’ Its never been a favorite genre but I’m warming up to it. And I really enjoyed this book. I think perhaps because it was a ‘portal fantasy’ it was easier to digest. The main character – Nora – is a directionless English graduate student who finds herself inexplicably drawn into a fantasy world far beyond her understanding where magic is real and magical creatures can drag you away at any moment. The book bills itself as a mix between the Magicians and Pride and Prejudice and, actually, that’s fitting.

She is initially ensnared in the sinister plots of a faeoran woman, Ilisa, who had dark designs for Nora and her future. Under a spell and many enchantments, Nora doesn’t quite realize what’s going on even despite the attempts of a surly wizard to warn her. It’s not until she suffers a personal tragedy and realizes that the glamour and glitz around her is false that she calls for help. She finds herself then in the care of that same wizard, Aruendiel, who has been locked in a constant battle of wits with the faeoran people and especially Ilisa. But though he is her savior and reluctant protector he and Nora butt heads. It’s not until she discovers magic  – truly discovers it and how to tap into it – that their relationship really starts to change.

It’s a fantastic book and though I would bill it as a romance it’s a very slow burning one. It’s frustrating and great and the book keeps you wanting. If you’re hoping for a resolution at the end of the book you’ll be sorely disappointed as – apparently – this is the first of a series. I mean, technically it wraps up the main story at hand but it doesn’t resolve any of the burning questions so it’s clear that we’ll need to wait for the next installment for much of that.

But don’t let that deter you from picking this book up now. And I mean now. It’s really fantastic. It’s wonderfully written, the world is incredibly engaging, and the author just put so much thought into everything. I really enjoyed the characters – especially Aruendiel. We always have these picture perfect ideas of a hero in fantasy stories and even in this era of shades of gray we rarely have the sort of characters that are just fundamentally flawed. Who do terrible things and live hundreds of years and everyone knows their business. He’s an interesting character to be sure. Nora is a bit plain but she’s very much every normal woman from our world. So many portal fantasies have people adapting rather quickly but it takes Nora time. She has to learn a new language, deal with different customs, figure out magic… it’s not easy.

That’s what makes it great.

It is long, though, so keep that in mind. And also keep in mind that reading it likely means reading at least one more nearly 600 page book to find the final conclusion of Nora’s story. I can say, though, it’s definitely worth it.

Final Thoughts:
An awesome portal fantasy that delivers just what it promises – a mix between Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. A frustratingly slow growing romance that promises some ultimate resolution someday, it’s a great read even if it isn’t the easiest.

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