Book Review: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

This cover is horrible. Seriously, when I saw it, I thought the book was published in the 80s. WHAT WAS YOUR GRAPHIC ARTIST THINKING, YO.

This cover is horrible. Seriously, when I saw it, I thought the book was published in the 80s. WHAT WAS YOUR GRAPHIC ARTIST THINKING, YO.

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.

This book was recommended to me by one of my oh-so-awesome penpals (no, WordPress, I do NOT mean pencils…as I’ve spent 5 minutes trying to give a cease and desist letter to your autocorrect)! I’ve been on a real fantasy kick lately and she provided some spot-on recs…like Sabriel.

I was instantly doubtful of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic. However, I am happy to report that the actual reading improved the impression I had drawn based on the cover (gag) and title (odd). Overall I’m giving it 3.5 stars…I am leaning towards 4, but…the sheer length of it is taking a half star off for me. I don’t mind longer books, as I read faster than average…but honestly this one could have been edited a little better, starting with less scenes of boring medieval castle chores. The writing itself is of excellent quality, I have no complaints whatsoever! Emily Barker has created a colorful world peopled with interesting characters. I finished it in about 3 days, despite the staggering 570 pages!

 

I’m a sucker for any books that have to do with books or bookish people, and Nora’s grad school/literary critic/teacher occupation intrigued me. Her personal life woes in the beginning are oh-so-very first world, but thankfully we don’t spend much time with that before she goes wandering and plunges headlong into the other world. The first, oh, about 60 pages…I felt like I was drunk and wandering around trying to figure out what was going on. At first I was extremely annoyed and though I wouldn’t be able to finish the book, but then as I kept going I realized that the feeling was intentional, to make us feel how Nora feels when she first enters the alternate world. Well done indeed. Maybe keep it to 40 pages next time though. 😉

The world she enters has a deep history and so many interesting characters – most of which are MUCH more interesting than Nora herself. There are stories within stories – both in the form of sub-plots, and actual stories characters are telling. I loved that part. I absolutely despised Aruendiel until the last 100 pages or so, but his story was just so DAMN INTERESTING I had to keep reading. So much intrigue – and so much innuendo and crimes hinted at but not fully explained. Which, I suppose, is quite in keeping with the medieval type society depicted. Oh…don’t even get me STARTED on all the patriarchal nonsense that Nora has to put up with. I did really like that she was constantly resisting all that malarky, even when it was shoved on her day in and day out.

The overarching conflict was very long in coming to its conclusion (see comments on editing). I could have done with a few more fight scenes. If the tempo of the last 200 pages had been over the majority of the book, it would have definitely been 4 solid stars. Emily Barker has, thankfully, avoided the dreaded tropes of either a love triangle or a special snowflake. Nora is underwhelmingly average, as she is frequently reminded. I can really appreciate that after so many books lately just chock-full of ALL THE SPECIALNESS.

Just when I thought the ending was resolving itself…oh, haha, nope just kidding! We’re left hanging by a thread and while part of the conflict was resolved we never find out what happens to some of the main characters. *flail* This is so unfair! Especially since there is no hard and fast date for a sequel. *cries* I. Must. Know. I actually checked my book to make sure no one had torn out the last chapter (I had a library copy). Nope. Just a massive cliffhanger. I will definitely be looking at for the next one, even if from the sounds of the author comments on GoodReads, it might be a long time in coming.