[Book Review] The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic / Emily Croy Barker (Author website, Powell's)
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 and The Magician King) and Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy (A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night).
This book completely messed up my weekend plans.  We periodically receive boxes of ARC's for collection development purposes, and I managed to snag this out of our most recent box.  That following weekend I was supposed to finish assigned readings in a timely manner and then write the assigned essay for a MOOC.  Then this book happened.  Assigned readings and essay?  Completed, but far from my best work.

Eminently enjoyable, this is a lovely piece blending urban and high fantasy.  The book also stands as an example of fantasy that isn't aimed at YA audiences (though I would have loved it as a teen) without the use of graphic sexual content as the defining line.

Having read both Lev Grossman's The Magicians series and Deborah Harkness' All Souls Trilogy (at least the two books so far published) I have to disagree with the "official" recommendations.  If you like those books you likely will enjoy The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic, but a better reading experience match up would be against The Night Circus or the works of Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Maybe Tanya Huff's Enchantment Emporium books.  The strongest connection between The Thinking Woman's Guide and The Magicians or A Discovery of Witches is the combination of urban and high fantasy.

For a book weighing in at 576 pages it was a quick read.  But then again, I didn't want to put it down.  Maybe you'll enjoy it too.


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