Book Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke


General Fiction > Historical Fiction > Fantasy

Two magicians shall appear in England.
The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me…

The year is 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, and centuries have passed since practical magicians faded into the nation’s past. But scholars of this glorious history discover that one remains: the reclusive Mr Norrell whose displays of magic send a thrill through the country. Proceeding to London, he raises a beautiful woman from the dead and summons an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French. 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. So begins a dangerous battle between these two great men which overwhelms the one between England and France. And their own obsessions and secret dabblings with the dark arts are going to cause more trouble than they can imagine.

Literary Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel (2005), Man Booker Prize Nominee for Longlist (2004), Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (2006), Locus Award for Best First Novel (2005), Guardian First Book Award Nominee (2004), World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (2005), Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature (2005), Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Adult Fiction (2005), Cena Akademie SFFH for Kniha roku (Book of the Year) (2007)


My biggest disappointment is the Raven King. All those talks about John Uskglass made him the character to anticipate in the last part. And then… nothing. What is frustration. But Susanna Clarke has other plans (on how Strange & Norell worked their differences), so the ending still went well for my taste.

Am I a Norrellite or Strangite? Neither.

Norrell is flaky for his age, his servant Childermass is more interesting than him. Strange is too ambitious for his own sake. It’s sad that Strange lost the most important thing without him even knowing it, but when he did, it was too late.

It’s funny, that when JS&MN started to bore me, those short (and often long) footnotes snags my attention. The side stories there are riveting and very, very imaginative. These parts are enough to make me go back and resume my reading.

Parts II and III are fun, especially when Strange starts to take interest on the faery roads (my favourite part). Everything faery here is fascinating, the tales so unreal and a bit scary for those beings we considered all cute and dusty with faery sprinkles. The Kingdom of Lost-Hope is enough to make me cringe with nervousness.

I would not have read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell if not for the buddy read that I joined. It’s thick, and thicker every time I put it down (it’s so heavy), because I honestly thought I won’t be able to finish it!

Patience, lots of it. It is the key to enjoying and finishing this brick fantasy. But I believe when you get to the part where Strange is using his learned magic to win a war (and later, to win back his life), you will get hooked. That’s what happened to me.

Last piece of advice, then: Good Luck! *grins*



Paperback, 866 pages

Published August 30th 2005 by Bloomsbury

4/5 stars