& Review: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker. Fiction. Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker. Fiction. Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books

The Book Itself: Whimsical, almost Alice in Wonderland-ish. A word-y title that takes up the whole front cover (and title box for this post!)

My Review: Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman.  During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty.  Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.

Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her “real life” against the dangerous power of love and magic.

This review might be hard to piece together. I christened this my “gym book,” meaning I only cracked it open when I was warming up or cooling down at the gym (that’s right! I joined that gym!). And it’s a BIG book. 600+ pages, spread out over a couple months? That’s a lot of ground to cover.

So…the book opens well, getting you right into the thick of Nora’s less than desirable situation, first reeling from a breakup in the human world, and then put under illusion in the fairy world. And THEN she’s quite literally whisked off to a DIFFERENT magical world where she is told the wonderful things she just experienced at the hands of the fairies was a bunch of lies.

So Nora isn’t having a great month.

This book reads very episodic. Every chapter or so Nora embarks on another Side Adventure. She learns some rudimentary magic and sets out to barter her skills for new boots. Aruendiel takes her to court (where her evil fairy former-captor also happens to be – oops!), and she makes some new magical allies. Nora and Aruendiel travel to a village and solve a creepy crawly local mystery.

This episode-building makes for a plot constantly twisting and turning, and thus pretty interesting. But it can also read as if the story and characters are simple, and that the true plot is not important. Even Aruendiel seems to just bumble along through magic, and this shady peace agreement with the fairy people is clearly ridiculous. If the fairies are killing/enchanting people all over the place, destroying stuff and basically taking property from every single village that isn’t theirs….why hasn’t everyone ganged up on them and gotten rid of them?

A lot of minor characters in these episodes never return. In the books’ last fifty pages alone, Nora travels with an ice demon and hunky soldier. These two get unceremoniously dumped by the plot, never to be heard from again.

Which brings me to perhaps the worst flaw of all…that horrible, terribly managed ending. Every loose end it could possibly have? Left untied. You spend over six hundred pages with Nora, with Aruendiel, with this magical world….then you leave it with hurt feelings all around, the idea that a major character has died…but perhaps isn’t actually dead? And the overall feeling that you just wasted your time, because after alllll that, you still don’t get any answers. Or satisfaction.

Also…there’s someone with the name “Hirizjahkinis” helllooooo unnecessary letters.

Apparently there is a sequel in the works (NOT an excuse to leave all those loose ends). I will not be reading it.

My Grade: C-

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