Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book Review: The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic
Emily Croy Barker

Release Date: August 1, 2013

Emily Croy Barker

Book Description:
An imaginative story of a woman caught in an alternate world—where she will need to learn the skills of magic to survive

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.

Amazon US | Goodreads

When it was first published last summer The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic was heavily marketed to fans of Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy and even praised by Ms. Harkness herself as “fun, seductive, and utterly engrossing.” Naturally, I had to read this book or rather listen to it since I purchased an audio version, narrated by Alyssa Bresnahan [which might have contributed to my overall experience]. Regrettably, I had many issues with this novel which outweighed its positive elements and at the end I found it far from charming and captivating but rather dull and unnecessarily long.

Narration: First of all, I felt let down by the narrator. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that Ms. Bresnahan has talent and ability as a narrator. [And from my personal research a lot of people thoroughly enjoyed her narration style as can be evidenced by many praising reviews.] However, her narration simply didn’t work for me. I found it somewhat condescending and not only when it was appropriately so, but also in other instances that at the end detracted from the overall feel of the novel.

Story & Worldbuilding: The premise was interesting; unfortunately the execution fell short for me. The better half of the novel was spent aimlessly wondering around and struggling to establish the world. The numerous information dumps, very slow development and little to no action – it felt repetitive and uninspired, and could’ve used a thorough edit. Over 500 pages dragged on and on… Still there were interesting moments to be found that gave me hope and propelled me to go forward and finish the novel.

Characters: However, my biggest gripe with this novel was its humdrum characters that lacked any likeable qualities. From an exasperating heroine, who cannot be called a “thinking” woman if her actions should define her; to a powerful magician – Aruendiel, whose only interesting characteristic is his ability to wield great magic.

Nora Fischer is an English PhD student. Unlucky in love and struggling to finish her dissertation, Nora’s life is far from enviable until one day she accidentally stumbles into another world where she quickly falls under the patronage of beautiful and powerful Ilissa.

Ilissa’s world and lifestyle is enticingly rich and decadent, with its lavish parties and grand excursions, hunting trips through the nearby forest, and evening strolls through New York and Paris. Her vanity demands it and unknowingly, Nora becomes enchanted by this delusion of a fairy tale, but a magician, Aruendiel, will soon help her uncover the truth behind the façade and save her before she is forever lost.

Aruendiel is a powerful magician. He leads a reclusive life and his acerbic nature and bitterness are results of the long ago past. He is feared and regarded by many and he is not easily swayed by Ilissa’s charms or her deceitful nature. But his dislike of Ilissa is bordering on obsession; even so, he genuinely extends an offer to help Nora, only would she heed his advice?

Needles to say, there is a promise of a developing romance between Aruendiel and Nora which I found a bit odd given that there is no chemistry between the two. And Jane Austen references aside, to compare the developing relation of Nora and Aruendiel to that of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy would be crude and unfair in my opinion. So don't expect to find a touching romance here.

Conculusion: Overall, the novel had promise and great ideas but poor execution. It was neither good or bad but just somewhere in between [and I almost wish it was one or another because this review has been kicking my butt]. It is also clear that The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic paves the way for a sequel. So here's hoping that it will improve on its execution.


  1. Ooo it sounds like this failed you on multiple levels. A few reviewers I trust shared similar opinions regarding length, meandering and characters. They read the book, so while the narrator didn't enhance your enjoyment I don't think your opinion would change much.

    1. You probably are right, this book really needed an edit!
      I was actually thinking of your recent blogging tips post when writing this, cause I kept putting this review aside for weeks. Sometimes, some books... I just can't bring myself to write about them. Just meh and disappointing. I really thought maybe I'm not getting it? Cause a lot of people were praising how good this was and I just failed to see it.

  2. Hm....well I am still pretty curious about it :)

    1. Hey, why not? :) Maybe you'll like it more than I did. It really had a lot of promise.


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