The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Many of the reviews are comparing this to the All Soul's Trilogy or Lev Grossman's works - add Jonathan Strange and a few others and you come close to understanding that this isn't really breaking new ground. That's not to say this is bad, just that the world Nora finds herself in isn't quite as new and fresh as others seem to think.
Nora is a nondescript grad student, not doing too well with her dissertation ("stuck" sums it up) and recently dumped by her long-term boyfriend. There's an odd encounter with a man she bumps into while walking on campus, but forgets about that. She goes to a wedding in North Carolina and manages to take a morning walk that ends up with her passing through one of those doorways to another world, except she doesn't know that's what's happened. At first, she just thinks she's gotten lost and been taken in by an incredibly chic, rich woman and her jetset friends... slowly she figures out that there's something wrong, or different here. Or both. 500 pages later, it seems as though we're being set up for a sequel. I really don't want to give away too many spoilers, but this new world is one in which magic is almost an everyday fact, while what we think of as "normal" is no where to be seen (no electricity, no industry, no women's rights, minimal education and literacy, etc.). Going from modern day New Jersey to a feudal society is a little shocking - luckily for Nora, she has her time at Ilissa's house/estate and her relationship with Raclin to help her acclimate a little.
So, why three stars? First of all - say it with me - padding. So many backstories could have been cut and made this a little tighter. Second, the author was trying to be a little too clever with all the literary references: Nora (think Ibsen) is working on Donne (a little heavy handed, no?), all the poetry, the translation of Pride and Prejudice, Narnia, Snape and more get name checked. And finally, that title. Ugh. But if you can get past all that, it's a good read and perfect summer reading for fantasy lovers.
ARC provided by publisher.