‘The more I thought about these two books the more I saw how unique they were in their approach to storytelling. Rather than a typical quest arc, or bildungsroman, or boarding school tale, or even picaresque, what struck me about both books is that they center trauma and grief as their true subjects. Each novel mines the inner life of an introvert who has been forced into a terrible situation, and then each protagonist is given the page space to quietly, honestly, process their trauma and begin to recover.
In much the same way, Among Others uses its structure to tell a shadow story of Mori’s recovery. Walton’s story unfolds as a series of dated diary entries, so we know that the book’s prologue shows us a healthy and comparatively happy pair of twins in 1975, before skipping up to 1976 and reintroducing us to an older, shattered Mori, alone and furious. The entries cover the first three years of Mori’s new life, from 1976 until 1980, and the thing that comes through constantly is pain.
Among Others could have been a book about a girl fighting her evil mother with magic, and it could have been a standard, “nerdy girl finds unlikely friendships at boarding school”-type story. Instead, it’s about pain. It’s about what constant physical pain does to the human mind, and how to build up defenses against it.
…A book that could have just been a boarding school story has become a true bildungsroman, as Mori has to decide who she is, and who she wants to become.
These two novels show a different path for fantasy writing than the usual quest or heist tale. Instead they focus on tiny, quiet pockets of time—moments spent with a book, or in meditation—and look at how those moments can ripple out into a personality. They give us two very different characters who are, in the end, defined by their desire for quiet and stillness, defined by their own choices rather than the violence that was done to them. Rather than following their expected paths to become Vengeful Emperor or Murderous Witch, they draw on their inner lives to grow into real complex adults, and use their experience of trauma to embrace lives of empathy.