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

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.

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic has been described as Pride and Prejudice meets Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. Nora is a graduate student in her thirties kidnapped from our world, where her boyfriend has just left her for another woman, and brought to a world of balls and parties. There, she seems intended for the beautiful Ilissa’s son, Raclin, who is equally handsome and charming. Here, you can begin to see some of the Pride and Prejudice elements. And it’s true, that the society she becomes a part of has many of the values of Austen’s. It’s also true that the book features as part of the story. But there the resemblance ends. Only relatively short amount of time is spent in this Austen-esque creation before the ‘darker’ existence mentioned in the book’s blurb strikes. The rest is spent with the magician, Arundiel, who is apparently Mr Darcy-esque.

I didn’t see it. Although there were comparisons between the moody magician who reluctantly tutors Nora and the moody Mr Darcy, but they are few and far between. And as for the Magicians comparisons, I don’t see them. Yes, she learns magic, and yes, there is a certain group of books, with disillusioned protagonists introduced to a magical world, which both books belong to, but that’s where the similarity ends. I adored the Magicians. I… finished reading this. And I don’t think I’ll be reading the next one.

I will say a few things for it. The writing style was good. But the character development was nowhere near enough for 600 pages of writing, and the same with the plot. Perhaps this could have worked a lot better in a shorter book. The main focus seemed to be on the attempts at romance, which of course anyone knows is a no-go for me. There simply wasn’t enough to keep me interested. And large amounts of plot seemed to be jammed into the end of the book when they could have been further spread out.

Maybe if you like the romance side, there would be a lot more to this book. But for now… it’s not for me.

-K Hart

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