The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

Title: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic
Author: Emily Croy Barker (website | twitter)
Pub. Date: August 1, 2013
Source: Finished copy via publisher
Summary: 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.
Genre: Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary

Nora was just like any other woman in her late 20s. Okay, so her dissertation was slowly snowballing into an utter disaster and her boyfriend abruptly dumped her to marry another woman – and had the nerve to send Nora an invite! – but apart from that, she led a normal, happy life. That is until a weekend trip found Nora is a much different world, one where magic ruled and faeries were not the sweet little sprites from storybooks.

Unaware she has crossed over to a new land, Nora meets to glamorous and gorgeous Ilissa. Ilissa quickly takes Nora under her wing and soon Nora is attending party after party with breathtakingly beautiful people. Over time, Nora is delighted to discover that she even looks more beautiful. After meeting the charming and devilishly handsome Raclin, Nora finds herself falling for the man. She learns he is Ilissa’s son and the two are quickly engaged. There’s a part of Nora that knows this is ridiculous, that wants to say no, but she’s just so happy.

Nora soon finds out Ilissa, Raclin, and their friends are not who they seem. They’re Faitoren – fairy folk – and have used their magic to not only lure Nora in (Prince Raclin needs an heir), but also to glamour their entire landscape. The large house, the land, even the Faitoren themselves are enchanted to look beautiful. A chance meeting with a magician leads to Nora’s escape and it’s at Aruendiel’s estate that she begins to learn about magic and what chance she has of returning home. All the while Ilissa is eager to get her revenge.

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Magic is NOT a lazy weekend read. No, no, no. This is a big, thick book (563 pages) with a pace that’s in no hurry to reach its destination. I spent two weeks with this story and by the time I finished I was shocked by how upset I was. Not because of the way the book ended, but that it did end. I came to deeply care for these characters and this world and I simply wasn’t ready to leave it behind.

While the book is largely told from Nora’s perspective, there is the occasional glimpse into Aruendiel’s thoughts and I loved these scenes. No longer did I see him as a stiff old magician. He felt real and by the time he told his story to Nora he was one of my favorite characters. He has a past, people, and it’s not at all a pleasant one.

The secondary characters – Mrs. Toristel and Hirizjahkinis especially – were all so expertly drawn that I knew them, whether they were around the entire book or just a few chapters. It also doesn’t hurt that throughout the novel there were many references to Jane Austen and poetry.

This is the kind of novel where I don’t want to talk about it too much (for fear of saying the wrong thing), but I simply can’t stop rambling. Really, it’s that good. After finishing, I realized that little details in the beginning made sense; everything came full circle.

The ending might not appeal to many readers – the open-endedness of it forces the reader to reach her own conclusion – but rest assured I’ll be highly recommending this one any chance I get. Don’t let the length put you off – The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic is so worth it. The story was stunning and the world-building was fantastic. Ms. Barker announced on twitter there will be a sequel and let’s just say there was much rejoicing on my end. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic exceeded all expectations and you can bet I’ll be awaiting the sequel with grabby hands!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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