Many thanks to Penguin Group – Viking for sending me this advance review copy via NetGalley!
Release Date: August 1, 2013
Price: $27.95 USD
Goodreads Book Blurb: 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.
My Opinion: When I saw this book on NetGalley, I had to have it. Something I have been craving lately is a strong female character, particularly in a fantasy setting. I requested this book and was so excited when I was approved.
Unfortunately, my excitement only lasted about 100 pages into the book.
With a title like The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, I imagined the character to be a headstrong woman who was secure in herself and her opinions. I thought she wouldn’t take any bull from anybody, and that she would be an accomplished magician by the end of the book. Nora was none of these things.
A lot of the time, her lack of matching characterization to the promises made in the title were written off as being tied to enchantment. This didn’t fly with me. I think in the end, the title was just a really bad choice for the book.
There is another reason for this. Not only did Nora not present as a “thinking woman”, the book didn’t have much in the way of magic in it, either. For a book titled The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, this was nothing short of a tragedy.
Emily Croy Barker’s book is the first one I have read recently that features what I have dubbed the “constructed-patriarchy trope“. In writing fantasy, authors have so many options open to them. Why do they fall back on creating an oppressive patriarchy for their characters to overcome? In this instance, it may have been an effort to make Nora seem more like a “thinking woman”, but it fell flat.
Another character I had a very hard time liking was Aruendiel. He was the typical alpha male, very much a jerk, yet somehow endearing. The only difference in The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic is that he is not stunningly good-looking.
Writing-wise, Emily Croy Barker is good. The prose was decent, but the storytelling was lacking. There were a lot of tangential things brought in that did nothing for me with regards to the whole story, and instead just bogged down the book bringing it in at over 500 pages. I love long books, but this one could have easily been shorter.
Not having read any Austen myself (I know, I know, bad Erin) I found the Pride and Prejudice references overdone and tiresome by the end of the book. They also seemed really out-of-place to me, but that could also be because I haven’t actually read P&P, and don’t know the story.
Even knowing this is a part of a planned series, the ending really aggravated me, as open-ended endings tend to.
Bottom Line: The title was a bad call on this one. Inherently it is not a horrible book. The writing itself is good, and some of the imagery is wonderful. But I had such high expectations of it because of the title that it really fell flat for me. As always, I encourage my readers to make their own call. But if you decide to pick up Emily Croy Baker’s book, imagine it is titled differently, with no reference to magic or amazing female characters.