Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

10/10 A genuinely original story, beautifully told.

The year is 1806 and the country is England. The Napoleonic wars are raging in France and magic, an academic subject only, is no longer practised. A street peddler foretells of a prophesy of the return of magic to England, which has been dead since the disappearance of the Raven King some three hundred years ago.

Enter Mr Norrell, his magical displays enchant the nation, he raises fair maidens from the dead and sends ghost ships to battle the French. He is at pains however, to ensure that no other lays claim to his title of England’s Greatest (and only) Magician and with the help of his servant Childermass, he searches out every book of practical magic to be added to his private library and every theoretical magician to ensure their interest in the subject swiftly wanes...with a little persuasion. Enter Jonathan Strange, a young man who appears to challenge Mr Norrell's status. Although only a novice, his talents are brilliant and whilst Norrell has poured for years over his books to obtain his knowledge Strange's natural aptitude for the subject knows no bounds. A battle between these two magicians threatens to overshadow even the war. Their dark practices cause them more trouble than they could ever, possibly imagine.

"Ever since the first evening Mr Segundas had been intending to ask Mr Honeyfoot about the Learned Society of Magicians of Manchester which Dr Foxcastle had mentioned. He did so now. "It was a society of quite recent foundation," said Mr Honeyfoot, "and its members were clergymen of the poorer sort, respectable ex-tradesmen, apothecaries, lawyers, retired mill owners who got up a little Latin and so forth, such as people might be termed half-gentleman. I believe Dr Foxcastle was glad when they disbanded - he does not think that people of that sort have any business becoming magicians. And yet, you know, there were several clever men among them. They began, as you did, with the aim of bringing back practical magic to the world. They were practical men and wished to apply the principal of reason and science to magic as they had done to the manufacturing arts. They called it 'Rational Thaumaturgy'. When it did not work they became discouraged. Well, they cannot be blamed for that. But they let their disillusionment lead them into all sorts of difficulties. They began to think that there was not now nor ever had been magic in the world. They said that the Aureate magicians were all deceivers or were themselves deceived. And that the Raven King was an invention of the northern English to keep themselves from the tyranny of the south (being north-country men themselves they had some sympathy with that). Oh, their arguments were very ingenious - I forget how they explained fairies. They disbanded, as I told you, and one of them, whose name was Aubrey I think, meant to write it all down and publish it. But when it came to the point he found a sort of fixed melancholy had settled on him and was not able to rouse himself enough to begin."

This novel creates such an atmosphere that you could almost be in 19th century England, in fact the attention to detail is such that at times, even with the obvious fantasy subject matter, you feel as if you are reading an historical account of real events. It is the clever use of real historical figures such as Wellington and Byron woven throughout the book that lends an authenticity to the events you are reading about and it is seamlessly done. The pomposity of the English ladies and gentlemen of the era is fully realised and Susanna Clarke has written the book in a style not dissimilar to Dickens and Austin.

This is a large book at over 800 pages but the richness of the tale keeps the reader enchanted until the very end. Clarke brings life to all her characters and her imagination leaps out from every page. To have kept the writing style uniform throughout is itself a triumph.

The book contains many footnotes, which could easily of distracted from the story but instead provide interesting stories of their own and are integral to understanding the character and other world of 'Faerie', which is the starting point of the Raven King and therefore all English Magic.

Susanna Clarke shows amazing intellect and imagination in creating this new world and it is a joy for the reader to immerse himself or herself in. This book is highly recommended and mainly for adults. It is a genuinely original and arresting story and will establish Susanna Clarke as one of the finest new authors of our generation.

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16 positive reader review(s) for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell


Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell reader reviews

from United States

Beautiful in all its magnitude; such genius from the first word to the last, which sheds the most unique imagination over its pages like magic growing, twisting forth from the page in words and sentences that captivate and intrigue any soul that loses them selves in its pages.

from Austria

Jonathan Strange and Mr Mr Norrell is one of the finest books I've ever read. Poetically written with pacing that may be too slow to some but most will find it a delight. If you're a fan of historical fantasy you must read this book.

from United Kingdom

A very interestingly and matter of fact style of magic, with so much incredibly strong thought out law, the world presented is enchanting, and developed, and beautiful even, but perhaps the best part is the narrator and the presentation of such a world.

from Italy

It's a beautiful book, yet disappointing because it wasn't what I wanted to read. It's over 800 pages and I didn't feel them at all. Jonathan Stange and Mr. Norrell, talks about magic, it doesn't exist anymore, until the nobleman "Norrell" from the Northern England begin to study real magicians old books. He has a huge library with unvaluable rarities. And this is the good part because the story is about how hard it means to learn magic, it's how it should be, Norrell takes all his life studying and finally can show to the world that magic exists. He's the only true magician, he's careful, introverse, but confident. He is special, he deserved to be special. Since then the events get an other road. Jonathan Strange is the second magician which emerges casually for no reason at all, he hasn't books, he didn't learn, he cannot learn, he just copies spells and experiment on field, eventually he got "natural talents" which makes him like: "hello there, I'm a mage, I can move the world, a country, the moon, with almost no efforts, with no clue at all of how I succeeded", or something close. It ruined my expectations, magic must be hard, magic needs efforts and long studies, a lot of practice, failures, and strict rules. This is suddenly lost. Now I'm not saying it's a bad book, because Susanna Clarke knows how to tell stories, but somehow she missed a great opportunity to write something epic. This genial thing of this book is that is based on a dualism: Team Norrell vs. Team Strange, at the begin there is peace between them, but they don't share the same point of view of magic and eventually divide their partnership. Both of them have good and controversial bad aspects: Strange wants teach magic to everyone with no care of criminals who may use magic for their crimes, and may begins a world disaster. Norrell instead tries to keep magic for himself, because he wants be "the greater wizard of all times", he also care for his Country, he says black magic is despicable and tries to protect the world, attempting to stop Strange who wants spread magic knowledge publishing it in a journal or books. Norrell however isn't gentle at all with people, he's selfish and doesn't care of anyone, neither of his best friend/servant Childermass. The author of this book gives all her best to depict Norrell as hateful as she can, to counterbalance things. Strange care for people, but he's reckless, he protect his country in a different way than Norrell. He goes directly with the army to give assistance (still without killing anyone, but stressing the enemy), risking to die. And this is it. Choose your side when you talk with a friend about this book, argue with him. Why did you choose Norrell or Strange?

from Germany

I have read this book shortly after it came out and I very much enjoyed reading it. It is written beautifully, full of style and wonderfully drafted characters. The book is not boring but one certainly has to be able to enjoy the art and craftmanship that went into this book. Yes, it is not action packed but that's what makes this book so special! For years I keep checking if S. Clarke has written another book and to my disappointment she hasn't yet. Believe me, there are not many authors I keep checking on.

from UK

Careful ideas, carefully developed with an adult sensibility. The antithesis of Harry Potter (and, I suppose, Harry Dresden) and not to everyone's taste. It's also, and thank English Magic for it, nothing like the bloated Game of Thrones. Hope Mirrlees does indeed come to mind, and also Neil Gaiman who draws the same link to Lud-in-the-Mist. Deliberately reminiscent of a 19th Century novel. I'm unsurprised at the number of Americans and, I suspect, young thrusting, sword-wielding and gold-hoarding wannabe sorcerers who don't like it. I'm more than disappointed that Susanna Clarke has written so little.

from United States of America

Not so much a classic novel as a rambling 'history' of magic, magicians and enchanted realms in Napoleonic Britain and Europe. Might resemble a series of novels or story arcs. Little in the way of compelling conflict. Or tension. Simply one magnificent revelation after another, like rare specimens in a cluttered curiosity shop. BUT real life is like that too. Things aren't always so dramatically arranged... they just happen. In that respect, this book makes wonderful fantasy seem very, very natural, as if it all quite simply unfolded just that way. Keep it next to your bed and read it as you would the Bible.

from Scotland

Fantastic book. Wonderfully written, dryly humorous, vivid characters, and delightful footnotes explaining the magical history of the version of England depicted. The best book I have read in a long time!

from Philippines

Absolutely loved it.

from Ukraine

It's really amazing! I loved every page. It has style. I enjoyed the text itself as much as I enjoyed the plot. It is exquisitely British, it has both novelty and tradition.

from Childermass

I see a lot of reviews that indicate this book is "boring." Nonsense! "Dry" it may be, but boring it is NOT. I can see how a generation (or several) that was raised on television and to-the-point novels might have trouble coping with the delightful "Austen-esque" use of language. I admit this is not a book for all readers. Personally, I absolutely loved it. The delightfully dry humor, the 'historical' footnotes, the intriguingly complex use of magic and mystery...the amazing use of language only increases the pleasure. Though a seriously weighty tome, I finished this book in just two days, I was so engrossed in it's story. If you've an appreciation for Romantic literature and fantasy, you MUST give this book it's fair chance.

from Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.

An amazing book.

from Wiltshire

This is a book that I can not praise highly enough. It's magical, the period setting the most believable I have ever encountered. Beautifully written with a wonderfully dry humour throughout. This is a book that shows that fantasy is not just elves and goblins but can be a book of which Charles Dickens would be proud! 10 out of 10!

from Lancashire

I have just finished this book, which has taken a couple of weeks as I only get to read for a short time in the evenings. It is an amazing book and although it requires at times real commitment in following the story (not least with the footnotes being a whole other book in themselves!)it rewards you richly with the beautiful prose and incredible attention to detail making this book a true modern classic that you just have to read!

from Leeds

A truly wonderful book that has great characters and fantastic plot. The sense of humour that runs through is dry but often hilarious. This is fantasy for adults, I doubt that children would enjoy it, mainly due to the size of the book (800+ pages) and they would probably find the themes slightly too adult to enjoy.

from Glasgow

The way the book is written is the key for me with this book, the footnotes, which could have made it seem like a history book, are wonderfully witty and do not distract you from the story itself. The story is great, the two magicians, Mr Norrell and Jonathan Strange are completely different but complement each other superbly. The supporting cast, which includes Childermass, Drawlight, Segundas and Black do what a supporting cast should do and this all goes to make reading it a real treat. Susanna Clarke will be hard pressed to write another book this good bit I, for one, am hoping that she succeeds.

9.4/10 from 17 reviews

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