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The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by…

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic

by Emily Croy Barker

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Nora Fischer (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5624126,342 (3.53)28
  1. 00
    All Is Fair by Emma Newman (LongDogMom)
    LongDogMom: Both involve a world parallel to our world filled with dangerous beings who are maniuplative and scheming, with strong social classes and rules, and people who manage to slip from one world to the other.
  2. 00
    The Gate of Ivory by Doris Egan (Marissa_Doyle)
    Marissa_Doyle: Both are stories of female protagonists dropped into alien worlds where they discover unexpected talents for magic.

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» See also 28 mentions

English (40)  Italian (1)  All languages (41)
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
I originally gave “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Magic” four stars because it is entertaining and incredibly well written and I genuinely enjoyed reading it. However, upon further reflection I’ve decided to downgrade my rating to three stars because the poor structure—NOTHING was resolved. Just because this is the first in a series doesn't mean the author doesn't have to conclude something.

That’s a bit harsh, I’m aware. I suppose the main character, Nora, did eventually manage to get home, where she promptly decided she wanted to return to the world she’d spent the entire book trying to escape. Surprise, surprise. Except that literally after deciding she wanted to return to the magic world, the story ended. That was an actual surprise, and it wasn’t a good one. If I’m going to invest my time reading 400 pages about two characters, I fully expect to feel some sort of resolution at the end. In “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Magic,” there was none.

Final (spoiler-free) thoughts: don’t spend your money on this book, and don’t bother reading it until the sequel comes out.


There were multiple threads that needed to be addressed before “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Magic” should have ended—Nora’s desire to return home (check!), some sense of what she wanted to do with her life (not just where she wanted to be), her relationship with Aruendiel, and her relationship with the two Big Bads, Ilissa and Raclin. Nora married Raclin, escaped his reach, miscarried their child, and was terrorized by him at multiple other points through the course of the story. After the “final battle” against the Faitoren, he and his mother disappear. No one can find them, no one knows what happened to them, and Nora leaves that world before they’re found. And as bad as Raclin was, his mother Ilissa is the real Big Bad. She is the one we wanted to see Nora best, and we didn’t get to see that, either. Although Ilissa couldn’t enchant/brainwash Nora quite as effectively as she did at the beginning, all Nora can do is struggle against Ilissa’s powers. While it’s clear Nora can’t win, the struggle in itself is a triumph. However, when Nora leaves for her own world she is still essentially as helpless as when she arrived. There has been growth, but not much. Not, arguably, enough growth.

Nora’s unresolved relationship with Aruendiel is an even bigger issue than the lack of closure with Raclin and Ilissa. This is because "The Thinking Woman's Guide to Magic" is a romance, and Nora's relationship with Aruendiel is essentially the story's backbone. Their relationship unfolds in conjunction with Nora translating “Pride and Prejudice” from English to the magic world’s native language, and there are very clear mirrors between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s relationship and Nora and Aruendiel’s. Knowing that Elizabeth Bennet eventually comes to love and accept a marriage proposal from Mr. Darcy leads us to believe that Nora and Aruendiel will eventually, to use a coarse term, get their shit together. They don’t. Placing their relationship against Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s is such a good setup, and it wouldn’t even necessarily mean that Nora and Aruendiel are “supposed” to get together. Their relationship could fall apart, but that would place their relationship *in contrast* to Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s. One way or another, there needed to be some kind of resolution between Nora and Aruendiel. There is LITERALLY no resolution. They don’t speak on their way to the magic portal! And then Nora returns to our world without him.

Part of the unresolved romantic aspects ties in with what Nora wants to do with her life. That is to say, we don’t know what she wants to do with her life. Does she want to stay in the magic world and become a magician? Marry Aruendiel and be a lady magician in a sexist, medieval world? (Except she probably can’t marry him, because she’s still married to Raclin! THE LACK OF RESOLUTION, IT BURNS.) What about her probably-not-dead friend? Or maybe she’d like Aruendiel to come live in her world with her? I don’t know, and I would like to accuse Ms. Barker of not knowing, but I’m pretty sure she’s just holding it all back.

In conclusion: whether you spend money on “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Magic” or whether you get it from the library, don’t bother reading it until the sequel comes out. I’ve only recorded my major gripes here, but there are plenty more where those came from. ( )
  whatsmacksaid | Sep 21, 2018 |
I was skeptical of this book at first. I wasn't really fan of the beginning, it seemed very similar to many currently published books that start off with this weird mooning phase for the protagonist. However, it set up the rest of the book quite well and I really loved how they dealt with cultural differences and different norms. The theory behind the magic was interesting and the characters were all very engaging. ( )
  mmaestiho | Sep 20, 2018 |
What to say? Warning: spoilers abound.

This is a portal fantasy (translation: person from this world ends up unexpectedly in another world, usually one with magic) that was so stereotypical in the first 60 pages that I set it down for weeks. I finally picked it up again this week (hell, I paid $17 for the MF) and after her escape from the illusions/magic of Faery, the story seemed to pick up again as Nora settles into the magician Aruendiel's castle doing household chores and then studying magic. For the next 400 pages. Then the Fae escape their reservation imprisonment and Aruendiel is captured and neutralized and then Nora finds him with the aid of an ice demon and frees him and they win (although the big baddie and her son escape) and then she returns back to Earth, sent by Aruendiel and another magician. And then the book ends.

This book suffered at the beginning with the same problem I had with [The Magicians]--I was bored and just didn't care. And then I did for a while, I like Nora's voice, but nothing happened. And then, finally something happens and then it just ends. Obviously, there will be more. Also obviously, the author is making some sort of statement about portal fantasies but I'm not sure what it is. And I don't know that I will be bothered with finding out. ( )
  ronincats | Jun 17, 2018 |
A bit of a rehashing of a story that's been told before. Kept my attention but I found myself frustrated at the main character quite a bit. Part of me likes this because she wasn't the typical heroine with an iron will. She was more realistically human. Worth a read and I'll pick up the second in the series. ( )
  AmandaEndicott | Feb 21, 2018 |
This is a fun absorbing read, building on many fantasies that have gone before and coming up with something familiar but not known. ( )
  quondame | Dec 27, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic embraces many of the things that make portal stories so perennial, with just enough twists that it seems to be in conversation with some of its forebears (let's admit it, it's nice to have a lead character in a fantasy epic who's unrelated to any remarkably-publicized prophecy), and offers a world of minutiae that suggest deeper issues of power and gender waiting to be explored; for those, there's always the sequel.
added by ablachly | editNPR, Genevieve Valentine (Aug 8, 2013)

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Emily Croy Barkerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Belanger, FrancescaDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goretsky, TalCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goretsky, TalCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my father, the best of magicians
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Much later, Nora would learn magic for dissolving glue or killing vermin swiftly and painlessly or barring mice from the house altogether, but that morning--the last normal morning, she later thought of it--as she padded into the kitchen in search of coffee, she was horribly at a loss when she saw the small brown mouse wriggling on the glue trap in front of the sink.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670023663, Hardcover)

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.

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).

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:42 -0400)

Only magic will set Nora Fischer free in an alternate fairy tale world that offers anything but 'happily ever after.' Illiterate women roam this world gone wrong, and men's spells hold the world in submission. When a mysterious magician teaches Nora the magic she needs to survive, a sudden doorway back to her world suddenly looks like one she may not want to go through.… (more)

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