Thursday, August 20, 2009

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

"Can a magician kill a man by magic?" Lord Welllington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. "I suppose a magician might," he admitted, "but a gentleman never could."
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a fantastic work of fiction, providing an alternate take on British history circa 1807-1820. To go with this time setting, the author, Susanna Clarke, writes in a style to fit the times, somewhat like blending Charles Dickens and Jane Austen together. The story is intricate and rich. The air of mystery hangs on every page, teasing the reader from the beginning to the very end. The sudden changes in the novel throw the reader down unforeseen paths, leaving his senses constantly on guard. The subtleness of magic permeates throughout England, though there are only two practical magicians. The backdrop of the French Revolution and England's war against Napoleon set the plot in an all-too-real world.

Yes, JS & MN is an amazing work of art. The characters are very well defined and extremely complex. Mr Norrell is England's only practical magician, and he spends all his time collecting books of magic and books on magic, as well as sending his servant Childermass out to persuade theoretical magicians to forsake their studies. Jonathan Strange finds that he can do magic, and he seeks the tutelage of Mr Norrell, quickly mastering technique and rising to become England's second practical magician. Each man is connected in an intricate web of nobility and other well-to-dos, as well as a few lesser men.

Clarke did wonders in her characterization, and there were qualities that I liked and disliked in many of the characters, especially with Strange and Norrell. Of course, Childermass was well defined, as well as Lady Pole and Stephen Black. Ah, there were many folks that I really liked.
The plot of the book is also compelling. The folks of England remember back when magic was more common, back in the times of the Raven King, back when magicians conversed with fairies and magic was not lost. The main plot of the book centers around Norrell and Strange deciding to try and return magic to England. Typically, the magic is not explosive and avant-garde, but instead subtle and simple, like making illusions in the rain against the Frenchmen.

Perhaps the most compelling mystery throughout the book is the many references to the Raven King. His character builds throughout the story, through footnotes and lowly folk gossiping. (Clarke uses many footnotes throughout the book to provide additional anecdotes and more info on certain subjects. This aspect seems almost like a history book, perhaps even one that Mr Norrell himself would read...) By the end of the novel, I was eager to learn all I could about the King.

I really cannot say enough about this book. It was funny, witty, suspenseful, exciting, and at times even mundane, but never really boring. There are few idle words in this tome, and I think Clarke knew exactly what she was doing when she was writing each and every part of the book. I savored every quirky story. There were many quotes that I would like to put here, but I feel that I would rob you of something if I did so.

I can't think of any negatives about this Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, besides the fact that it's so large that it's unwieldy and difficult to carry easily everywhere. I strongly urge you to read this book if you want to experience something unlike anything you've read before. While the novel does advance slowly at some points, it is not a boring read. No, it is a wonderful read. It's like taking a trip down an old familiar road, and remembering things sweetly passed. It's like eating chocolate ice cream for the first time. It is superb, and I praise Susanna Clarke for her brilliant debut.


Krista said...

Love the review! I'll have to pick it up soon. I never heard of it before your blog posts, thanks!

There's also another award for you on my blog, enjoy!

Mattson Tomlin said...

I'm sold. looking into it now...

Krista said...

Hey, Logan!
I know you’re a fan of The Name of the Wind as well as art, so I thought you might like to see this:

Kim Kincaid is awesome, eh? I really loved her interpretation of Bast and Kvothe! I love her blog she’s super awesome!

logankstewart said...

@Krista: Thanks Krista. Have you seen some of the Steel Inquisitors from google searching? If you Google Image search "Steel Inquisitor art" there are some pretty cool ideas.

@Mattson: You won't be disappointed. Let me know if you read it and what you think.

@Krista (again): I've came across that image of Kvothe before, but the Bast is new. I love her Kvothe, though...