Emily Croy Barker’s riveting debut novel is a must-read for fans of Lev Grossman and Deborah Harkness. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic follows grad student Nora Fischer as she stumbles through a portal into a magical world. Having been transformed from drab to beautiful, Nora finds herself surrounded by glamorous friends. Life seems perfect. But then things take a terrible turn, and Nora must learn magic from a reclusive ally if she is to have any hope of survival...
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In most ways, this is just the kind of book I seek
This was a treat. I like longer books with lots of detail and respect for the reader's need for a plausible story. If an author wants to send me through time or into another dimension, then I want at least a fair explanation of how that happened. I'm one of those unfortunate people who can't suspend my understanding of reality and just go with a story...give me something to let me think the strange circumstances MIGHT happen. This story does that.
The publishers' summary gives you an idea of the plot. I don't like reviews that retell the story, so I won't do that here. Here are the pros and cons as I see them.
Cons: The author seems to have an ax to grind with pretty people, Only one character who I would classify as "good" gets to be attractive; a female magician who befriends the heroine. All the other favorably portrayed characters are plain, disfigured or elderly (not that older people aren't still beautiful). I get that it's nice to read a book about romance between characters that aren't unrealistically handsome and beautiful. But this story goes a step further; almost implying that real aesthetic human beauty does not exist, but rather is always an illusion. Men don't fare much better. The hero is surly and sour and killed his first wife. (no spoiler here. This information is provided early.) There is a handsome knight, who is pretty dim and "dismissable". There again, pretty can't have anything else going on. My last con: This is the beginning of a series? trilogy? I knew that going in, but this book doesn't end, it just stops, mid story. This isn't so bad if the next installment is in the works and can be expected in a reasonable amount of time. Let's hope the author doesn't operate on a timetable similar to Harkness (A Discovery of Witches) or Gabaldon (Outlander Series). While I understand the amount of detail and research I love takes time...three year cliff hangers take away from the enjoyment of the story. (IMHO)
Pros: This is an interesting take on magic and travel between other versions of our world. The descriptions of the heroine's life in this strange world are rich. Magic is treated as any other area of study: the student might have aptitude for a subject, but hard work and practice are the key ingredients. Don't get me wrong..we're talking magic here. Some smart theories about how it works, and even the implementation of good old Algebra are utilized, but the basis of the story is the ability of many of the character to cast spells and enchant others. So it's escapism..but with some thought required. Others reviewers have said they wouldn't put this book in the romance genre. While there's no bodice ripping or endless declarations of love, there is no denying this is a love story. A complicated and unfolding one. I like that too. Love is complicated and messy, and the author does a remarkable job presenting it as such. The narrator is good.
So, if you like shifting between worlds, magic, a slow burn love story, patient character development, and yes, a little Algebra on the side, I recommend this book. Be prepared to want to scream with frustration at the end of the book, and realize it might be a little while before you get to pick of the story again. If you can deal with that, it is a great way to spend 26 hours.
Not only does the author waste time on a strange series of scenes in the beginning that could have been told much quicker, the book seems to have multiple personalities. In addition, the author telegraphs later events by heavy-handed foreshadowing. Most frustrating though are the inconsistencies of the main character. She has an incredibly difficult time believing a situation that she can see and hear and feel, yet she dismisses a murder committed by another character simply because it is acceptable by his society's standards. Overall, the book dragged by and made me angry every other chapter.