esc, January 4, 2012 (view all comments by esc)
this book sat on my shelf for a year or two because i was intimidated by the sheer size of it. even after i finally picked it up, it took me about 150 pages to get into it... but once i did, i couldn't put it down. a surprisingly funny revisionist history of 19th century english magic that's totally worth your time.
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joannehurd, January 13, 2011 (view all comments by joannehurd)
My husband & I read this for our book club. There were many times when I did not want to stay within the restrictions of the number of pages we agreed upon because the story is so enticing. I love the mystery that is woven throughout the story but is not the main focus, and I really enjoyed the footnote stories. This is a book that I have recommend many times to a wide variety of readers.
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Scot, June 15, 2010 (view all comments by Scot)
I really loved this book. It is beautifully written and well plotted, and, best of all, populated by compelling and challenging characters. It is richly detailed yet moves at a brisk pace - great for short attention spans - and there are surprises around every corner. The story is full of beautiful imagery, interesting pseudo-historical references, and fun magic. I read practically the whole thing at one sitting and was actually sad once it was over. It was as though I'd finished with a good friend, it was that pleasantly distracting.
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Larry Robinson, October 17, 2008 (view all comments by Larry Robinson)
This is a really fabulous story. Yes, it may be a bit longer than necessary, but you forgive that quickly once you get caught up in the writing. This book is like a throwback to classic novels of old.
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vickreal, October 1, 2007 (view all comments by vickreal)
For a large book, there is always the dread of getting bogged down, but not wanting to be a quitter. Quite the opposite happened with this book. I was reading it so quickly, I could have finished in a few days. On the other hand, it was so creative, original, and engrossing that I had to limit myself to a few pages a night to make it last!
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I know you shouldn't recommend books that you are only halfway through, but this is such a lush tapestry of a book I can't resist. Like a moist rich chocolate torte, Strange and Norrell is the sort of book you ration out to avoid finishing it too soon. If you need more convincing, Neil Gaiman calls it, "unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years."
A fantasy book of manners? Yes, and it works! Original and clever, this lush novel comments on the society and culture of magic. Strange and Norrell have opposing viewpoints on magic's role, and their clash provides a fabulous backdrop for this wonderful book. Just read it! It's great.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"The drawing room social comedies of early 19th-century Britain are infused with the powerful forces of English folklore and fantasy in this extraordinary novel of two magicians who attempt to restore English magic in the age of Napoleon. In Clarke's world, gentlemen scholars pore over the magical history of England, which is dominated by the Raven King, a human who mastered magic from the lands of faerie. The study is purely theoretical until Mr. Norrell, a reclusive, mistrustful bookworm, reveals that he is capable of producing magic and becomes the toast of London society, while an impetuous young aristocrat named Jonathan Strange tumbles into the practice, too, and finds himself quickly mastering it. Though irritated by the reticent Norrell, Strange becomes the magician's first pupil, and the British government is soon using their skills. Mr. Strange serves under Wellington in the Napoleonic Wars (in a series of wonderful historical scenes), but afterward the younger magician finds himself unable to accept Norrell's restrictive views of magic's proper place and sets out to create a new age of magic by himself. Clarke manages to portray magic as both a believably complex and tedious labor, and an eerie world of signs and wonders where every object may have secret meaning. London politics and talking stones are portrayed with equal realism and seem indisputably part of the same England, as signs indicate that the Raven King may return. The chock-full, old-fashioned narrative (supplemented with deft footnotes to fill in the ignorant reader on incidents in magical history) may seem a bit stiff and mannered at first, but immersion in the mesmerizing story reveals its intimacy, humor and insight, and will enchant readers of fantasy and literary fiction alike. Agent, Jonny Geller. (Oct.)Forecast: A massive push by Bloomsbury has made this one of the most anticipated novels of the season. It's convenient to pigeonhole it as Harry Potter for grownups — and grown-up readers of J.K. Rowling will enjoy it — but its deep grounding in history gives it gravitas as well as readability. 200,000 first printing; rights sold in 14 countries." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day"
by Laura Miller, Salon.com,
"It may be just as well that Susanna Clarke's first novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, is nearly as big as a house, since this is the kind of book you want to move into and settle down in for a long stay. It's set in a world very much like the England of the early 1800s, only in Clarke's version magic was once a daily presence and has since been lost or perhaps merely misplaced. In other words, this world resembles the world of our own reading, for most of us can remember a time when stepping into a book was like entering into an enchantment....Susanna Clarke's magic is universal." (read the entire Salon.com review)
"Review A Day"
by Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor,
"The prospect of having to read an 800-page novel billed as 'Harry Potter for adults' was enough to make this weary book critic pine for an invisibility cloak. But for those of you who, like me, can't endure another charmless opening at the Dursleys', take heart: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is no Harry Potter knockoff. It's altogether original — far closer to Dickens than Rowling....Move over, little Harry. It's time for some real magic." (read the entire Christian Science Monitor review)
by Kirkus Reviews,
"An instant classic, one of the finest fantasies ever written."
by Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor,
"Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is no Harry Potter knockoff. It's altogether original — far closer to Dickens than Rowling....Clarke drops supernatural elements into the plot slowly and sparingly, luring fantasy readers along, while acclimating skittish newcomers to this genre gradually."
by Neil Gaiman, author of the Sandman series and American Gods,
"Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years. It's funny, moving, scary, otherworldly, practical and magical, a journey through light and shadow — a delight to read, both for the elegant and precise use of words, which Ms. Clarke deploys as wisely and dangerously as Wellington once deployed his troops, and for the vast sweep of the story, as tangled and twisting as old London streets or dark English woods. It is a huge book, filled with people it is a delight to meet, and incidents and places one wishes to revisit, which is, from beginning to end, a perfect pleasure."
by Gregory Maguire, The New York Times Book Review,
"Clarke's imagination is prodigious, her pacing is masterly and she knows how to employ dry humor....In this fantasy, the master that magic serves is reverence for writing."
by Michael Dirda, The Washington Post,
"Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell may or may not be the finest English fantasy of the past 70 years. But it is still magnificent and original, and that should be enough for any of us."
by Rocky Mountain News,
"Clarke has written a 19th century classic; there's little doubt it will have readers clamoring for more."
by Denver Post,
"Clarke has crafted a great, looping narrative filled with characters greater and lesser that will pique first the interest and then the sympathy of the reader....The readers will find that this tale, though long, comes to an end far too soon."
"What kind of magic can make a nearly 800-page novel seem too short?....[Clarke's] epic history of an alternative, magical England is so beautifully realized that not one of the many enchantments Clarke chronicles in the book could ever be as potent or as quickening as her own magnificent narrative."
by The New Yorker,
"Clarke's ability to construct a fully imagined world...is impressive, and there are some suspenseful moments. But her attempt to graft a fantasy narrative onto such historical realities as the Battle of Waterloo is more often awkward than clever..."
by Charles Palliser, author of The Quincunx and The Unburied,
"Absolutely compelling...the author captures the period and its literary conventions with complete conviction. An astonishing achievement."
by Entertainment Weekly,
"[I]mmense, intelligent, inventive, arid, and exhausting....Clarke is a restrained and witty writer with an arch and eminently readable style....Wholly original and richly imagined, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell turns out to be more admirable than lovable. (Grade: B)"
by Dallas-Ft. Worth Star Telegram,
"For all of her flights of postmodernist fancy, for all her stories about 'black towers' and magical books and hidden bridges that connect England to Faerie, Clarke has delivered a book of universal truths and unexpectedly heartbreaking acuity."
by Seattle Times,
"Strange lives up to all the enticing promise of Clarke's earlier work. Her deftly assumed faux-19th century point of view will beguile cynical adult readers into losing themselves in this entertaining and sophisticated fantasy."
by Minneapolis Star Tribune,
"If Harry Potter makes you want to be a kid again, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell will make you realize that being an adult should be a whole lot more fun than it is."
by Detroit Free Press,
"Clarke is marvelously clever — she could step right up there with J.K. Rowling. Her extensive, fictional footnotes are as amusing as they are informative....[S]plendid reading..."
by Polly Shulman, Slate.com,
"With all the hype, it's tempting to dismiss Clarke's novel as a mere knockoff, but it's the real thing: original, mesmerizing, with uncompromising literary integrity."
The phenomenal bestselling novel, in a new tie-in edition to the major seven-part BBC TV series costarring Bertie Carvel (Les Miserables) and Eddie Marsan (War Horse).
At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England's history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England--until the reclusive Mr. Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.
Yet the cautious, fussy Norrell is challenged by the emergence of another magician, the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. Young, handsome, and daring, Strange is the very opposite of Norrell. He becomes Norrells student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.
Time #1 Book of the Year Book Sense Book of the Year People Top Ten Books of the Year Winner of the Hugo Award New York Times Notable Book of the Year Salon.com Top Ten of 2004 Winner of the World Fantasy Award Nancy Pearls Top 12 Books of 2004 Washington Post BookWorlds Best of 2004 Christian Science Monitor Best Fiction 2004 San Francisco Chronicle Best Books of 2004 Winner of the Locus Award for Best First Novel Chicago Tribune Best of 2004 Seattle Times 25 Best Books of 2004 Atlanta Journal-Constitution Top 12 Books of 2004 Village Voice “Top Shelf” Raleigh News & Observer Best of 2004 Rocky Mountain News critics favorites of 2004
English magicians were once the wonder of the known world, with fairy servants at their beck and call; they could command winds, mountains, and woods. But by the early 1800s they have long since lost the ability to perform magic. They can only write long, dull papers about it, while fairy servants are nothing but a fading memory.
But at Hurtfew Abbey in Yorkshire, the rich, reclusive Mr Norrell has assembled a wonderful library of lost and forgotten books from England's magical past and regained some of the powers of England's magicians. He goes to London and raises a beautiful young woman from the dead. Soon he is lending his help to the government in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte, creating ghostly fleets of rain-ships to confuse and alarm the French.
All goes well until a rival magician appears. Jonathan Strange is handsome, charming, and talkative-the very opposite of Mr Norrell. Strange thinks nothing of enduring the rigors of campaigning with Wellington's army and doing magic on battlefields. Astonished to find another practicing magician, Mr Norrell accepts Strange as a pupil. But it soon becomes clear that their ideas of what English magic ought to be are very different. For Mr Norrell, their power is something to be cautiously controlled, while Jonathan Strange will always be attracted to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic. He becomes fascinated by the ancient, shadowy figure of the Raven King, a child taken by fairies who became king of both England and Faerie, and the most legendary magician of all. Eventually Strange's heedless pursuit of long-forgotten magic threatens to destroy not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything that he holds dear.
Sophisticated, witty, and ingeniously convincing, Susanna Clarke's magisterial novel weaves magic into a flawlessly detailed vision of historical England. She has created a world so thoroughly enchanting that eight hundred pages leave readers longing for more.
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