Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic (Barker)

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic 
Emily Croy Barker, 2013
Penguin Group (USA)
567 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780670023660



Summary
With her dissertation stalled and her ex-boyfriend engaged to another woman, Nora Fischer finds herself flailing. While suffering through a friend's wedding weekend, Nora wanders into the woods to clear her head and somehow discovers a portal that transports her away from her current misery into a world unlike anything she's known before.

There, Nora meets a mysterious and powerful woman named Ilissa and her suave son, Raclin. Nora is seduced by the excitement of this new realm, and she tumbles headlong into a passionate romance with Raclin. The wondrous veneer soon fades though, and Nora realizes she's not only caught in a strange, foreign land but she has been thrust into an age-old power struggle between Ilissa, Raclin and their nemesis, the magician Aruendiel.

When Nora finds her life in danger, it is Aruendiel who comes to her rescue and who reluctantly agrees to mentor her in the spells and magic that she'll need to survive in this new and perilous world. Despite Aruendiel's reclusive, acerbic nature, Nora begins growing closer to him. As her spell-casting skills grow, Nora encounters plenty of magical characters including a former witch-priestess-turned magician and her dangerous pet, a wizard with literary ambitions, and an ice demon whose deadly hunger is tamed only by poetry. As the land readies for war, Nora is alone at a crossroads with a decision to make: stay in this realm of magic or return to her own world?

Emily Croy Barker has written a richly imagined debut that is steeped in the literature of fantasy, fairy tale, and classic fiction. Readers will find all sorts of homages in The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic-from Beauty and the Beast, to Alice in Wonderland, to classic journeys to the underworld. And they will fall for Nora, who is indeed a thinking woman's heroine: smart, quirky, witty, and best of all, very real.

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). (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1965-66
Raised—Greensboro, North Carolina, USA
Education—B.A., Harvard University
Currently—lives in New Jersey


A graduate of Harvard University, Emily Croy Barker has been a magazine journalist for more than twenty years. She is currently executive editor at The American Lawyer. This is her first novel. She lives in New Jersey. (From the publisher.)



Book Reviews
Centered on more adult concerns than the Harry Potter books, Barker’s debut is full of allusions to dark fairy tales and literary romances.  If Hermione Granger had been an American who never received an invitation to Hogwarths, this might have been her story.
People


[A]mbitious, densely packed.... Nora [Fischer]...has escaped into another world in which magic exists—and is not as cute and cuddly as she might have imagined. Though the story starts with a classic tale of unpleasant fairies working their will, it morphs into something deeper and more nuanced.... [A] well-rounded, smooth, and subtle tale.
Publishers Weekly


Nora Fischer, a doctoral student whose dissertation and love life have both hit the skids....is transformed into a beautiful woman surrounded by the rich and eclectic. Thus begins Nora's fast-paced adventure, full of romance, magic, and intrigue in which things are never quite as they seem. —Crystal Renfro, Georgia Inst. of Technology Lib. & Information Ctr., Atlanta
Library Journal


The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic is a medieval fairy tale with a deliciously dark twist...a thoroughly enchanting read.... Barker has spun a clever, lush yarn that is uniquely its own.
BookPage


[G]raduate student Nora Fischer wanders...smack-dab into a parallel universe seemingly populated by glamorous refugees from a Fellini film.... [But] all is not as it seems beneath the shining veneer of her new world.... This dark fairy tale has plenty of curb appeal for a wide range of fantasy, time-travel, and alternate-reality fans. —Margaret Flanagan
Booklist


Debut novelist Barker turns in a pleasant if largely predictable fantasy yarn. [A] brilliant literary scholar....wanders through a mysterious portal into the otherworld.... Will she ever find her true love in the magic kingdom? Will she get back to real life in time to pay her tuition? Barker's pages tell all—and leave plenty of room for a sequel or even a series.... An entertaining tale capably told.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. Nora proves particularly adept at magic. Is there something about her personality that makes her a good magician?

2. Would you rather be a wizard or a magician?

3. Aruendiel never tells Mrs. Toristel that he is her great-great-grandfather, though Nora urges him to. Nora never tells her, either. Did Nora do the right thing? Would you withhold a secret like that from a friend or family member?

4. When Aruendiel brings Massy's little girl back to life, he turns Massy into an apple tree so she can feed her children. Was this a fitting punishment for the woman?

5. After the ice demon has sucked Dorneng's soul, Nora takes care of him (though he has just tried to kill her) rather than abandon him. Would you do the same?

6. When Aruendiel is trapped by an invisible prison, Nora uses math to break the spell. Are math and science the equivalent of magic in our world?

7. Nora translates Pride and Prejudice into Ors. Discuss the role of the novels and poems that appear in this book. What do they mean to Nora?

8. When Aruendiel casts the observation spell, Nora is able to see her family. Would you stay in a magical world separated from your family physically if you could communicate with them through such a spell?

9. Did you want to know more about the mysterious Kavareen? Would you trust it?

10. If you were to learn real magic, who would you rather have as your teacher, Aruendiel or Hirizjahkinis? Why?

11. Does Aruendiel change over the course of the book? Has he learned anything from Nora by the end?

12. Were you rooting for Aruendiel and Nora to get together at the end? Or Nora and Perin?

13. At the end of the book Raclin's ring is still on Nora's finger. Do you think she will return to the world of magic?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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