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The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker
Cover Artist: Getty Images
Review by Gayle Surrette
Pamela Dorman Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780670023660
Date: 01 August 2013 List Price $27.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Q&A with Author / Show Official Info /

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic, by Emily Croy Barker, doesn't fit neatly into any category. Take the beginning, it opens with Nora Fischer ruminating on her life -- her boyfriend came back because he had to talk with her and, instead of proposing, like she thought he would, he told her he was marring someone else and, by the way, would she like to come to the wedding. This is usually a book that is setting us up for a new romance, a better romance, with someone way better than this loser.

When she's meeting with her graduate student advisor and being told she's got to buckle down and get the dissertation written because so far it's not looking good, you'd think well okay romance and the new guy will be in her field or some sort of academic that will inspire her to greatness. Or maybe, she'll discover a lost poem by Donne and that will lead to some sort of paranormal adventure.

Afterall, this book came to the office listed as Fantasy. So, okay keep reading, and she goes on a walk after a bad party experience and comes across an abandoned and overgrown cemetery. You know the kind with poetry on the gravestones. Nora goes in to read the stones but when she comes out to retrace her path she's not where she should be. She's in the middle of a great estate with beautiful landscaped gardens and, before she knows it, she's partying every night and sleeping late during the days and has lost track of time. She can't seem to concentrate; in fact, the only things she cares about are her looks and her new fiancÚ, Raclin, and keeping him happy.

However, every now and then she begins to think something is wrong. One day she wanders just a little too far from the party and finds herself lost, confused, and captured by some very dangerous looking soldiers. Nora doesn't understand their talk of magic, danger, or even their offer to help her escape. Lord Aruendiel, the Wizard, with the men who captured her offers her a feather and tells her he's willing to help if she calls on him.

At this point, we, as readers, begin to rethink everything we've previously read. Believe me, I had my suspicious before, but it's at this point that they all get confirmed and everything changes from drugs and mind control to magic and other worlds.

Nora must escape her captors and find help in a world that rates women just slightly above the beasts of the field and then only if they come with a significant dowry or links to a male parent with power. Just imagine being a college graduate student plopped down in such a world.

First Nora must come to grips with her situation and the fact that magic exists. She must learn to do magic because that's the only way she can gain status and the line to learning is through Lord Aruendiel.

Once you get in a chapter or two, it's hard to put down. You keep cheering her on or feeling like you should be able to reach in and help her understand just what she needs to do and who she should believe. That's just how thoroughly you get pulled into the story. The world is rich in detail. The magic is consistent and has rules. The characters are engaging, enraging, comical, or tragic, but never dull.

Nora, in the end, has a choice to make -- one that you know is going to have a cost and maybe that cost will involve others. In the end, I can only hope that there is going to be a sequel because I really, really, really want to know what is going to happen next. Looking back, I see some connections (hints) that the author wove into the story that I hope mean that there may be some further adventures for Nora.

Highly recommended.

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