Emily Croy Barker’s ‘The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic’

thinking womans guideDespite disliking the main character so much I almost quit halfway through, once you get stuck into this book it isn’t half bad!

The first part of this book is pure fairy tale. Our main character, Nora, stumbles upon a beautiful house and gardens deep into the forest. Soon, she’s drawn into the chanting and intoxicating world of Illisa and her friends. Caught up in a whirlwind of parties and swiftly married off to Illisa’s son Raclin, it’s only much later that she starts to regain her faculties enough to understand that she’s been enchanted from the second she clapped eyes on Ilissa, and that the Faitoren are much more than they seem. Desperate to escape their clutches, she flees and is rescued by the magician Aruendiel.

Away from the Faitoren, Nora finds herself in a world reminiscent of Medieval England. With no way to get back to her old life, she learns to adapt to life in his household. This brings some challenges in terms of how conceptions of power and gender are viewed compared to what she’s used to.  Initially, Nora’s relationship with Aruendiel is fraught and strained, with her essentially being an initially unwelcome, dependant houseguest who has yet to prove her worth. Eventually though, they start to work out their differences after she persuades him to start teaching her basic magic. And when Ilissa and Raclin make a play to kidnap Nora back, they trigger the start of a war that’s been a long time coming.

Nora as a main character is incredibly frustrating. The title refers to a ‘thinking women’, but as far as I could tell she did very little thinking until very late on in the book. Later on in the book her inability to question anything that the Faitoren do or say is explained away, but it does mean that our first impressions of her are as a ditzy airhead. She does redeem herself in the second part of the book though, and by the end she has something more about her and seems more real as a character.

To me, this felt like it should have been two separate books rather than one. From one half to the other, it completely changes in tone, feel and substance. Anyone looking for a comparison to Debroah Harkness’s The Discovery of Witches’ should not look here! I’ve seen the two books compared a lot, but I can’t understand why. Just because they both play with the themes of magic, otherworldly creatures and time travel, it doesn’t mean they’re at all similar. Deborah Harkness is in a different league altogether.

That said, it is still an enjoyable read – part fairy tale and part historical fiction with a healthy dose of magic chucked in for fun. I’m not sure if I’ll read the follow up, but if you fancy a good escapist read that you don’t have to think too hard about, it’s worth a go!

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