Debut novelist Barker turns in a pleasant if largely predictable fantasy yarn.
Nora Fischer is a brilliant literary scholar, “one of the best close readers of poetry I’ve ever worked with,” as her dissertation director tells her before dropping the big old but on her: but she doesn’t deal with big questions, with postmodernism or subalternity or dialogic hegemony or...well, Nora gets the picture. Neither is Nora a slouch when, quite by happenstance it would seem, she wanders through a mysterious portal into the otherworld. Though she has magically become more beautiful, she fails to attract the physical yearnings of Oscar Wilde, though she exchanges some good words with him all the same—and, he reminds her, “appearances are the only true reality.” Hmmm. No sooner are the words out than she is swept away by a handsome—well, prince, maybe, certainly VIP in this behind-the-mirror world—man (man?) who is very much something other than what he seems to be. Now Nora’s got other things to worry about, like how not to turn into stone (“cream colored stone. Marble, maybe”). Helping her along is a gruff and grumpy sorcerer type named Aruendiel—he wouldn’t be a sorcerer without a Welsh name, after all—who, though “a man of strong passions,” as another denizen of the back of beyond puts it, can’t be moved to make it a friends-with-benefits relationship. Will petrification ruin Nora’s looks? Will she ever find her true love in the magic kingdom? Will she get back to real life in time to pay her tuition? Barker’s pages tell all—and leave plenty of room for a sequel or even a series.
Think of this book as Hermione Granger: The Grad School Years. An entertaining tale capably told.