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


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.

Book 27 of this year’s Goodreads challenge led me to the world of Orsland, a world created (discovered?) by Emily Croy Barker, Harvard graduate and executive editor of The American Lawyer.  Maybe I’m just old-fashioned but I would not have expected a lush, epic fantasy from a Harvard grad.  I’m delighted to be proven wrong.

This book is divided into four parts. Part 1 is of course our introduction to Nora as she stumbles from her ordinary world (a wedding in the mountains) to the special world (Orsland) where she keeps company with beautiful people who are more than they seem. Part 2, Nora has met the magician Aruendiel and is now trying to learn “skills to survive” as the synopsis suggests. Cooking, cleaning, helping the housekeeper. Part 2 drags on forever.

Part 3 is where Nora finally starts to get to learn how to magic (yay!) and we learn the rules of magic in this world.  There is a big turning point between Parts 3 and 4 which I guess I would call the 75% marker.  Nora’s goals shift and things get much more complicated, leading up to the climax.

Barker has stated that she’s working on a sequel so things don’t exactly get resolved and there’s new characters and problems that are introduced way too late in the first book to expect it all to be wrapped up in a pretty bow.

For its overall length, I was a bit thrown about where the plot points would be found.  I understand (and agree) with some criticisms on Goodreads that the book is too long.  It’s not that there’s too many ideas crammed into one place per se.  Rather, there’s a lot of filler with all that cooking/cleaning that I wish could have been condensed.

It’s almost as if the passage of time is happening in real-time.  There are some moments that feel like months are passing — a barren vastness — and others that I wish Barker had prolonged.

One thing that I especially enjoyed about Nora was her understanding (and use) of poetry.  There are a few lines from the book on the author’s website — with citations — but I wish I’d had the foresight to underline/highlight each verse throughout the book to look it up later.  There are so many wonderful bits and pieces in there!

There’s also this interesting geography I want to know more about which the author references on her website with maps. Link: Maps

I really hope that in the sequel that we get more of a feel for the landscape.

If you read between the lines, it’s pretty clear what is going to happen in the next book but I won’t give away spoilers!!  I hope that the seeds Barker has planted will grow into a sequel, but perhaps not one quite so long.

April 2014 Status

Total Abandoned Titles:

(1) A Talent For Trouble by Jen Turano (226pp read)

Total Books Finished: 10

Total Page Count: 2,311 (and growing!)

This entry was posted in: Reviews


Lauren Miller is a Midwestern born writer with a passion for Jesus, the written word, and dogs. She has two decades of experience in the library field and reviews books for the Historical Novels Review (UK). She likes to spend her free time enjoying period films, discovering new reads, and being surrounded by other people’s pets. Lauren, her husband, and their wily Maine Coon (who isn’t quite a dog) live in Missouri. You can learn more about Lauren’s writing at

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