Unfortunately, Emily Croy Barker's "The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic" http://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Womans-Guide-Real-Magic/dp/0670023663/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1378620527&sr=1-1&keywords=the+thinking+woman%27s+guide+to+real+magic was a slog and tedious read, with just enough of a likable character and magical situation to keep this reader interested, but unsatisfied in the end.
You can be stuck slightly amused for the better part of a week in its densely written prose, but, in the end, feel famished for better amusements. Like the Jane Austen novel that the main character carries around and which the author tries to show that this novel is based, this is in some ways a comedy of manners and romance, but the heroine fails to act to get her man. There may have been a good novel lurking here, but it was just too long and slow to come out and the author has another agenda. Barker wants to expose the unjust way women are treated in medieval times.
Nora is an America English student, who passes through a gate into another world of what seems to be wonder and magic. There she meets Ilissa, a fashionable women, who introduces her to almost a roaring twenties type of excess that would make Baz Luhrmann envious. Nora is transformed into a beauty seemingly over night, her clothing enriched, her life is dashing. Soon she falls under the spell of Raclin, Ilissa's odd son.
But Ilissa and Raclin are not who they seem and Nora barely escapes with her life from their clutches, saved by the powerful Magician Aruendiel, but not before she is badly injured. While nursed back to health, she finds herself in a no man's land of trying to figure out her place in Aruendiel's household.
Barker spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on the minutia of Aruendiel's life and times and the clear unequal life of women in those times. Nora, who used to be a cook in America, barely utilizes her skills and is regulated to a life of drudgery and servitude to the seemingly harsh Aruendiel, who is used to the more traditional women of his world. Cast into a world that she does not understand, Barker makes Nora observe everything, and in the process question the manners and attitudes of the people especially as to how woman are perceived - unjustly from the 20th Century American world, to their manner of speech, the way peasants are treated and how noble women and peasant women each have problems finding husbands.
Aruendiel is a complex character. A rake when younger, he was badly injured in a magical attack against Ilissa years past. He does not understand Nora, but treats her justly in his way. He is vastly older than Nora and while she wants to understand him, he is not certain how he feels about her. Barker could have streamlined better here.
It takes a long time in the book for Nora to finally start to learn magic, which was foreseen in just the first few pages of the novel.
Once Aruendiel's pupil, Nora shows an aptitude. Yet Nora and Aruendiel are still subject to the preditations of Ilissa, who has much ill will against Aruendiel and Nora.
There are a couple of episodes in the middle section of the novel that are interesting, but overall its a slog to get through.
Yet the last third, in which the reader should have expectations of maybe more romance and magic, the slow pace of the story and long slog just never levitates the reader as well as Nora learns levitation spells. Nora does equate herself in one magical interlude, but its too far, too late into this tome.
The ending sets up a possible sequel, but will it entice this reader?
Overall, Barker gets an A for effort and insight into the medieval world exposing a lot of the issues especially about women, but a C for execution in story telling. This novel is just not as good as it could have been.