Or What You Will by Jo Walton 📚

“You already know the plot of Twelfth Night, right?” asks the narrator of this strange, dream-like, enchanting book, which is aimed directly at readers of fantasy who are also readers of Shakespeare, and in particular the romances, and even more specifically Twelfth Night and The Tempest. [Disclosure: I am that reader.] There are no fairies here, and only one explicit reference to the midsummer’s dream; the book is about fantasy, but the dreams are those of the writer, dreaming up the characters who populate her work, and the “real world” life of that same writer, who dreams of love and acceptance despite a lifetime of neglect and abuse from those closest to her, and the consequences of loss and mortality. There are mysteries and plots, characters who do terrible things for the wrong reasons, rebirths and self-sacrifices which change both those character’s fates and the fates of the worlds they live in. These themes are common in good fantasy novels, and this one is highly self-referential.

The writer herself is Sylvia, not to be confused with the daughter of the Duke of Milan in Two Gents, also not to be confused with Jo Walton; both are residents of Montreal who wrote novels during a visit to Florence. Or perhaps we are supposed to confuse them, as much of the story concerns the relationship between the author and the characters and worlds which the writer creates, the blurry boundary between the author and her characters, who often struggle to break free and define their own personalities. We also explore how the injection of magic and the fantastic into a work opens up strange and different places and people, and how despite those elements fantasy stories are still rooted in the life experience of the creator. In a way this book is a melding of magical realism and high fantasy, showing them as two sides of the same coin, following the two divergent paths but still meeting itself in the end.

Highly recommended.

Or What You Will