Sunday, 16 March 2014

Recommendation: "The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic"

I just finished reading this 563-page book in a weekend marathon. My daughter picked it up from the library, attracted by the title and  the cover, and I started reading it without even reading the synopsis first. 

Spoiler Alert! What a delightful experience, by the way, to read a book that sweeps you into an adventure without knowing what to expect. If you want to do the same, don't read the rest of this recommendation; just find the book and start reading.

At first I thought I was reading a contemporary romance. Grad student, Nora Fischer, has just been dumped by her boyfriend, and is having major trouble with completing her dissertation. She's a likable young woman with an unsympathetic adviser, the story is well-written, and I settled down to read how she was going to solve her problems with happy anticipation.

Except that she suddenly steps into a bizarre world as Alice through the looking glass didI'm not a reader of fantasy fiction, and the only other experience I have had akin to this book was Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, so I didn't know what to expect. At first, I thought that Nora had been picked up by some eccentric wealthy woman who was using her to generate excitement at her parties. She transforms Nora with make-up, hair, and costume, but soon I realized that it was more than a superficial transformation; she had somehow changed Nora physically, too. And more than that,  she had beguiled Nora and taken away her ability to think for herself. Time seems to shift from 2013 to the '60's, and then to the '20's, from New York to Paris, and I didn't know what to think, but suddenly Nora is picked up by soldiers dressed in chain mail, and I realized that this young woman is actually the prisoner of fairies. As a child, I had read fairy tales where children were kidnapped by fairies, and there was Rip Van Wrinkle, too, but here was a modern woman being kidnapped by fairies. Incredible and audacious story telling!

I know how challenging it is to create a credible world peopled by rich and interesting characters, but to throw in the historical element, romance, and create a fantasy world with its parameters and elaborate back story, interweaving it with the sensibilities of a modern woman, is quite the juggling act, and Ms. Croy Barker succeeds admirably. She also has a deft hand with suspense, egging me into reading just one more chapter when I knew that I should be going to bed or getting dressed the next day. Fortunately, I was able to dawdle away the weekend with a really good story, an indulgence that a book seldom compels me to do.

So, even if you don't normally dip into the historical, romantic, or  fantasy genres, I recommend that you read The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic, and hope that you will have as much fun with it as I did. There were signs at the end of the story that a secondary book is in the offing, too, so I look forward to seeing how Nora will slip back into the world of her magician, Lord Aruendiel, and how their relationship will progress as she tries to master his profession. Or, maybe he will live with her in her world? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

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