30 Books in 30 Days, Vol. 2
“I didn’t ask to have my good leg replaced by a creaky rusty weathervane, but then I suppose nobody does. I would have made much greater sacrifices. I was prepared to die, and Mor *did* die. I should think of it as a war-wound, an old soldier’s scars. Frodo lost a finger, and all his own possibility of happiness. 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.”
This is a strange little book, but I liked it a lot. Part of me kind of can’t believe they let her write this and publish it. It’s not exactly what one would call sellable, and yet I had a hard time putting it down, and it was entirely compelling, despite not having what one might call a traditional fantasy plot, or even a plot at all. This is more of a fantastical character piece, a coming of age novel, crossed with a healing from trauma novel. Crossed again with a story about stories.
Morwenna is fifteen years old, and we pick up with her as she is leaving Wales for the first time to go and live with her estranged father in England. Her twin sister Morganna has just died, and Morwenna is seeking asylum from her dark witch mother, who tried to take over the world, basically, until the twins stopped her. But that’s all the past. She’s at English boarding school now, because her three Very English aunts are paying for her to go. Because she walks with a cane and has a Welsh accent, Mori (the name she prefers, and her sister was Mor) decides to make her classmates afraid of her so that they won’t bully her too badly, and it works a little too well. She’s lonely and takes even more solace in her beloved books than she usually does. She’s also dealing with living in a non-magical place for the first time.
The place where she used to live in Wales was filled with nature and fairies and magic, and she was surrounded at all times by family. But the state doesn’t believe that her disabled grandpa or her aunt (who both helped raise her when her mother became incapable) are her correct guardians, and they tracked down her father instead, who left when the twins were babies; Mor doesn’t hold this against him because she figures she would have run away from her mother, too.
The story is told in Mori’s journal entries, as she goes through her time recovering and learning to live on her own without her sister, and attempting to find her way to some sort of community of people like her. She is also trying to recalibrate her relationship to magic, because she doesn’t want to end up like her mother. She’s very smart and thoughtful, and a total sff nerd. I felt like I should have been keeping a list of all the sf books she read throughout (it was a crap-ton). I don’t think it’s really necessary to have read all the books she mentions; perhaps it would be impossible. I hadn’t read a lot of them, and I was fine. Mori articulates her thoughts about them in a way that you know what’s going on. I have read a good chunk of the authors she talks about, but by no means have I read as deeply as Mori has. Several of the authors, like C.J. Cherryh, have been on my TBR for ages and I really need to get to them.
Part of why I can’t believe they let her publish this is because of how often she mentions other books. But it was lovely seeing how Mori lives her life partially in story, and begins to find others who do the same.
The one thing that rankled me, and which still feels out of place the longer I think about it, is that one scene with her father. She doesn’t have a relationship with him at the beginning, but they begin to tentatively form a relationship based on books. It’s basically all they talk about, and she is constantly borrowing books from his enormous library. Near the beginning, there’s a scene where SPOILERS they are staying at a hotel and he comes in crying and drunk, and makes a pass at her. She pushes him away and that’s the end of it. Her reaction, and what happens in the rest of the book is what has me the most out of sorts. She basically brushes it off since they don’t know each other, feels somewhat flattered by the attraction, but mostly feels he’s pathetic. And then she moves on! It’s never mentioned again. They don’t develop a bosom relationship or anything, but he remains a benevolent presence in her life, even while remaining sort of pathetic END SPOILERS. It’s just strange, and I don’t’ know what to make of it, or what the book wants me to make of it. That’s why I didn’t give this one five stars.
Still, highly recommend if it and its weirdness sounds up your alley.