I haven't read a lot of fantasy in the past, but every once in a while, one catches my eye. Such was the case with Emily Croy Barker's debut novel, The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic. I quite liked the cover and the title intrigued me
Nora Fischer has been dumped by her boyfriend and warned by her advisor that they need to seriously talk about her dissertation. The last thing she wants to do is go to another friend's wedding. But, she does. To get away from everyone for a bit, she takes a walk through a forest.......and gets lost. (First fairy tale element!) She stumbles on to the grounds of an absolutely gorgeous estate. And the owner Illisa and her friends are so much fun. And Illisa's son Raclin is gorgeous. And they'd love for Nora to stay just a bit longer with them........
She does - until she realizes that the glamorous veneer of Illisa's world hides something much darker. And there's no way back to her own world.
I'm not going to go any further than that. Suffice to say there's magic, wizards, magicians, fairies, demons, creatures and oh, so much more. Barker has created a richly detailed alternate world that I could easily picture.
Nora is an interesting protagonist. She seems determined to not see what is in front of her numerous times - from the beginning chapters at Illisa's estate to her first days at the Magician Aruendiel's castle. I admit to not being completely taken with her in the beginning. However, she grows and grew on me as the book progressed. By the end, I quite liked her. She shares the protagonist role with the magician Aruendiel. Him, I liked right from the get go.
Barker has incorporated all the elements of an epic adventure into her book. Good and evil, friendship, honour, love, treachery, wars to be fought, damsels to be rescued, heroics, Royalty, peasants and more. (Yes, all the elements of a fairy tale!)
Although I enjoyed all the world building and especially the magic discussions, the book probably could have been trimmed by at least 75 -100 pages. (It weighs in at a lengthy 563 pages.) But Barker is a good writer - her prose did flow easily and her imagination is impressive.
There are many allusions to Pride and Prejudice throughout the book. Nora is an English major and this is the one 'foreign language book' she finds in the alternate world, but I grew tired of the references and comparisons. For this reader, they didn't add to the book.
Did I enjoy the book. Absolutely! It was good to step outside of my normal tastes of . Does the story end with "And They Lived Happily Ever After?' Well, the ending wasn't what I had hoped for, but I'm thinking Barker has plans for a second adventure for Nora. I'd like to see what happens next!
The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic is an enchanting tale for anyone who ever wished they could step into the pages of their favourite fairy tale. Read an excerpt of The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic. You can find Emily Croy Barker on Twitter and on Facebook.
And thanks to the generous folks at Pamela Dorman Books, I have a copy to giveaway to one lucky reader. Simply leave a comment to be entered. Open to US only, no P.O. boxes please. Closes Sept 14/13 when a random winner will be chosen.