This book is FANTASTIC. I was enthralled from start to finish, and frantically looked up the author to make sure she is writing a sequel. (She is, thank goodness!) I absolutely loved the main character, Nora, and the acerbic magician Aruendiel. Even while cheering for the opposite side, I even enjoyed reading about Raclin and Ilissa, the villains of the novel.
In Nora Fischer, we have a modern, independent, feminist woman transported to a place and time where women are inferior (by nature, most think.) There are even linguistic influences that make them inferior; women speak with a lot of “um” and “well” type words in their speech, while men don’t. When Nora protests that this makes women’s speech sound weaker, she’s told that that’s “just how women speak.” Seeing her confronted with the sexism ingrained within the medieval style culture, and seeing her confront Aruendiel with how sexist it actually is, was a wonderful sub-plot of the book.
The main plot was well-paced and interesting – after being kidnapped by Ilissa at the beginning of the book, and enchanted into being a beautiful, love-struck little ninny, Nora recovers herself with the help of Aruendiel, and spends the rest of the book evading re-capture and finding her place in this new world. The descriptions are colorful, the characters are deep and fascinating, and the land and culture itself shows just how much thought went into creating this world. This is an absolutely spectacular debut novel, in my opinion, and I cannot WAIT for the sequel, since Barker did leave a few questions unanswered at the end of the book. I really can’t rave about this book enough. If you like fantasy, (or Pride and Prejudice, since this book, while not attempting to be a retelling or anything, had a lot of the same feel) you should really pick this one up.
From the inside cover of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic:
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 gets lost and somehow walks through a portal into a different world, with only her copy of Pride and Prejudice in her back pocket. There, she meets glamorous, charming Ilissa, who introduces her to a new world of decadence and riches. Nora herself feels different: more attractive; more popular. Soon, her romance with the 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 real magic herself – to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her “real life” against the dangerous power of love and magic.