Nora Fischer is having a bad day: Her boyfriend has just announced his engagement to another woman, her Ph.D. thesis advisor expresses doubts about her academic career and her cat's been hit by a car. So when Nora wanders into the garden of an heiress, Ilissa, who invites her to a series of splendid parties, it seems like the perfect opportunity to take time for herself. Then she meets Ilissa's handsome son, Raclin, who initiates a whirlwind courtship. By the time Ilissa and Raclin are revealed to be magical beings with unsavory intentions, Nora is sunk too deep in the enchantment to escape.
Soon Nora finds herself in another world where the milieu is medieval, magic takes the place of technology and an amoral Faerie-like race called Faitoren--the same people who seduced Nora into their world--are perpetually at war with the human population. Once she escapes imprisonment, Nora must find her place in a world where her academic skills, and even the English language, are suddenly useless. She is alternately aided and thwarted by the magician Aruendiel, who can perhaps be best described as an Alan Rickman character when the Harry Potter films meet Love, Actually.
In The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic, Emily Croy Barker presents an intelligent, no-nonsense heroine who never compromises on her dignity. Thrust into perilous situations, Nora always keeps her cool and her head for languages and numbers. Through persistence, even in the face of Aruendiel's initial discouragement, Nora learns the use of magic, a talent that will eventually be useful during the inevitable showdown between Aruendiel and the Faitoren.
Barker's lovingly developed main characters are the engine of the novel, and their relationship comprises its center. While these characters are the novel's strength, they are occasionally also its weakness, as the plot sometimes falters in the service of extended sections of dialogue. Much of the plot concerns the dark rumors (and facts) that swirl around Aruendiel and Nora's effort to reconcile them with the man she knows. As Nora journeys to various parts of the world, from the realm of the Faitoren to the human king's palace, she learns of Aruendiel's complicated role with regard to these two enemy kingdoms.
By the end of the novel, readers will feel at home in the alternate universe Barker has created, and their protagonists come to seem like old friends. --Ilana Teitelbaum
Shelf Talker: A debut novel about a smart young woman whose life is in shambles when she accidentally enters a different world--where magic, romance and battles await her.