“Tolkien understood about the things that happen after the end. Because this is after the end, this is all the Scouring of the Shire, this is figuring out how to live in the time that wasn’t supposed to happen after the glorious last stand. I saved the world, or I think I did, and look, the world is still here, with sunsets and interlibrary loans. And it doesn’t care about me any more than the Shire cared about Frodo.” Morwenna Phelps
“Bibliotropic,” Hugh said. “Like sunflowers are heliotropic, they naturally turn towards the sun. We naturally turn towards the bookshop.”
This book wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s not some shining battle of good against evil or a Tolkeinsian journey story full of elves, Ents, and one or two wizards. Instead there is just one slightly matter-of-fact, slightly dazed teenage girl who loves science fiction books and occasionally visits with fairies.
And this is what happens after; this is after Morwenna has lost her twin sister and after she stopped her mother from trying to rule the world through magic. Which I thought was a really interesting concept. Defeating the bad guy is a little like marrying the prince it’s almost always treated as an ending.
This is a “coming of age” novel about being an outsider and how our heroine deals with that as a damaged teenager. In Morwenna’s case books are the answer. She retreats into the science fictional world. Magic is really only an incidental part of the book. A lot of the time it’s barely even mentioned and when it is it’s part of the back story or has very little affect on Morwenna’s current problem of how to live in an everyday world. So if the fact that this is a book that involves magic and fairies makes you nervous you can relax. Really if we took out the magic part of the book there would still be some pretty good and interesting themes going on. You really don’t need to understand the magic to enjoy the book.
We learn about Morwenna and her predicament through her diary. She writes down her day to day to month activites, what she’s reading and what’s going on at school as well as her history with fairies and a little about what magic is like. This only really half works for me. On the one hand I think writing it this way makes her feel like a young character. She’s going to school, she’s seeing her dad, she’s reading her books. And you don’t forget that she’s a 14 year old girl. But I did feel that there was hardly ever a vulnerable side to her. She never really lets the reader in and really maintains an outsider feel through her writing as in every other aspect of her life. Even though it was written as her diary we never really get to see what’s going on inside her head. She writes in a bit of a detached way never really opening up about what happened before. She goes through and has gone through these amazing things but most of what we get is a day to day list of her doings rather than visceral reactions to losing her family and getting shipped away to boarding school. Not that I’m expecting histrionics but some emotional connecting would go a long way to helping me feel more for her.
Emphasizing the mundane in Morwenna’s world is both a good thing and a detriment. At times the book can feel like it’s devolving into a list of what science fiction book is being read each day. At it’s best it’s a poignant meditation on growing up, facing the monsters in life and always bringing a book with you.
Bottom line: It’ll probably be a while before I read this book again but I’m not going to be giving it away and it is something to come back to. The writing is just a little bit spare and poetic and the narrator is someone I would visit again. She speaks to my book addict genre reading greedy little heart.