Today I have a treat for you all ~ its release day for Emily Croy Barker’s novel The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic. In addition, the publisher has graciously offered the option for a giveaway of one paper copy of the book – limited to US mailing addresses only – no PO Boxes. This drawing will end at midnight (EST) on 12 August – use this Rafflecopter to enter.
Title: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic
Author: Emily Croy Barker
Format: Hardcover and eBook
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books/Viking
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Genre: High Fantasy / Literary
Purchase Now: Amazon § Barnes&Noble § IndieBound
About the Book:
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.
Think back to the first book that transported you on a journey to elsewhere: not a rapid movement, but a gentle realization that the world in the book is all around you. For me that was Through the Looking Glass. I found much of the same wonder and enjoyment in this book: a subtle return to those moments when reading where all outside influences cease to exist, and hours pass before they return.
Emily Croy Barker uses a smooth and beautifully descriptive writing style, to craft this story that incorporates references to classics, poetry and poets and the age-old battle of dark versus light. It is not a quick read at over five hundred pages, but a thoroughly charming one.
Nora is a grad student, stuck on her thesis and recently single. She hates her life at the moment, her self-esteems is shot, and she wants nothing more than to escape: from the sympathetic looks, the abominable men, her own feelings of failure and those few extra pounds that never seem to go away. And escape she does: an early morning wander in the woods leads to an old cemetery with a poem that attracts her. Lacking paper to write it down, she memorizes it, speaks it aloud and moments later, her world changes.
From here we are brought into a world of the impossible and improbable: where healing is by magic, clothes and people are always beautiful, the sun always shines and the most important event on the calendar is the day’s entertainment. Using time-periods that are iconic in their shapes, feel and essence to readers, Barker manages to use that sense to define fashion, style and furnishings with a nod to those eras: the 20’s, the 60’s, Elizabethan and Georgian and Victorian. There were moments early on when Nora’s complacency with the scene changes and situation made her difficult to understand, while some piece of the reader knows that she is under a spell, a bit of reinforcement of Ilissa’s power and influence on her memory and questioning earlier would have made it easier to understand her apparent passivity.
Aruendiel, however, was far more solid in his consistency and behavior, preferring the term ‘magician’ to ‘wizard’, although their capabilities are similar: in this world wizards tend to use their skills on a whim, to suit their current fancy. And Nora had been spelled, several times over, which presented a severe risk to her own mental health and safety. Nora shows her tendency to gravitate toward more ‘alpha’ and knowing personalities in her growing feelings for him: even as he must teach her to survive a return to Ilissa and eventually back to her own world.
This book is a wander to the end, throughout the story we are really given few clues to time passing, much like Nora’s inability to solidly define how long she had been away from her own world and life. These allows and insists that the reader simply drink in the moments and descriptions, and enjoy the slow unfurling of the plot: use their instincts as each new character is introduced to determine if they are friend or foe, and see if Nora really is able to find her way home. Not as action packed as some high fantasy stories I have read, there is forward progress with each chapter as we learn more, see more and watch Nora navigate this new and different world that is full of the impossible.
If you want a directly forward moving story, loaded with action and dramatic spell-offs: this is not the book for you. However, if you want a gentle moving story that is filled with beauty and description, a unique look at magic and its use, and a main character that has issues that many can relate to in their own lives: this is the book for you.
I received an eBook from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
About the Author:
Emily Croy Barker spent almost twenty years as a journalist, after starting out as an editorial assistant at Viking. Barker had great fun turning her writing skills to fiction to produce her first novel. A graduate of Harvard University, she is currently the executive editor at The American Lawyer magazine, where she oversees international coverage. She lives in New Jersey.