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Barker's 'Guide to Magic' draws on 'Pride and Prejudice', 'Twilight', 'Potter'

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

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"The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic" features a sweetly innocent relationship between aged Magician Aruendiel and twenty-something protagonist Nora, that is foreshadowed in Part I and accelerates in Parts II and III.

The novel, written by newbie Emily Croy Barker, editor of The American Lawyer, is an unabashed remake of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" that, without apology, inserts scenes reminiscent of the magical "Harry Potter" and fantasy "Twilight" series:

  • Wise Aruendiel might be Dumbledore's older brother, except for the fact that whenever he practices magic, he becomes younger in appearance and vigor. His restraint is very Mr. Darcy; despite a dark past, he is always a gentleman.
  • Nora's errant husband Raclin is not a man but, like Bella's Edward Cullen, he is a magical creature. And like Edward, Raclin impregnates Nora with a baby half human and half monster, that threatens her life, should he be delivered.

These similarities might be construed as band wagon. But Barker's novel draws its readers in as completely as Nora's nemesis Ilissa woos women to her son Raclin's bed.

The target audience does not tend toward young adult, however "Guide to Read Magic" will no doubt attract fans of "Twilight" and "Harry Potter". Flirtations between Aruendiel and Nora are PG adolescent-- similar to the sex found in "Pride and Prejudice". Therefore, high school librarians will not be chastened for recommending it to their populations.

This novel is obviously the beginning of a series; it does not end otherwise. My only suggestion for the next in this series is a title improvement. The claim to "real" versus "unreal" magic stated in this title conflicts with Nora's discovery that there are two practitioners of magic, wizards and magicians. The magicians do not perform real magic, but rather, simple magic.

I also find myself flushing at the claim that this book somehow offers an alternative to other magical novels with female protagonists, in that Nora is intelligent. I have yet to read a magical novel featuring a dumb female protagonist.

Think Katsa in "Graceling" by Kristin Cashore. Or Elisa in Rae Carson's "The Girl of Fire and Thorns." And certainly Tenar in "The Tombs of Atuan" by Ursula Le Guin.

If Barker meant to point out that the character Nora is working on her Doctoral dissertation, she might have titled the snobbery with more grace. Still, I find myself awaiting Emily Croy Barker's next release. On a 100-point scale, Barker's debut novel would rank in the 92 range.

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