Review: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker
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.
For lovers of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians series (The Magicians andThe Magician King) and Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy (A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night).
The Thinking Woman’s Guide To Real Magic feels like several books rolled into one. The stories range from banal to over reaching.
The novel tends to meander along its way to the end. Several story lines are left hanging in a most abrupt fashion. Our heroine, Nora, doesn’t seem too preoccupied with getting back to her own time and instead eagerly embraces the hardship and drudgery of her new life at the expense of her independence, family, and modern conveniences. It is difficult to accept this premise when the heroine spends the whole novel complaining about the disparity between the worlds.
Aruendiel, Nora’s protector and ultimately love interest, is a powerful magician saddled with a broken body, taciturn personality and a face that conjures images of Nostradamus. Frankly the romance between Nora and Aruendiel is off putting. The novel would have been so much more interesting if the love story had been left out.
Barker creates some wonderful imagery and unusual characters. Her website compares her book to Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy but, frankly, the comparison is a stretch. Overall the book is underwhelming.