Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

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Author: Susanna Clarke
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Paperback: 1006 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
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.  
Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell's 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.

Overall Rating:  3.5/5

The biggest strength of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke is that the writing is spectacular, and Clarke obviously did her research. Sometimes, I don't think good writing is stressed enough when it comes to novels, and the author often sacrifices it in order to spend more time on entertainment value and drama. Not so with this book. It is both entertaining, and brilliantly written. Besides that, the plot is incredibly thorough; each character gets his or her time in the spotlight and the end comes together beautifully.

However, this book does tend to be a bit tedious. It reads more like a historical narrative than anything else, which sometimes got in the way of me enjoying it. However, there are some fun parts having to do with magic that had me laughing out loud. (If a book that deals with magic doesn't have a bit of playfulness in it, it's taking itself far too seriously.) But Clarke doesn't make magicking all fun and games --  she strikes a balance between serious and light-hearted. I appreciated the combination of the hard work (the studying, the danger, and all the effort Norrell and Strange put in) and the fun. Norrell and Strange make stones speak, bring the dead back to life, and wander around thousand-year-old magical roads that can take them anywhere in England or Faerie.

This was a perfect book, except for its length and tediousness. A quarter of the way into it, I thought that quite a few chapters and anecdotes could have been cut without making a difference to the rest of the story. There was way too much time spent on some characters (Drawlight, especially), and on describing some events that didn't go anywhere in the end.

Still, I consider this worth a read. It won't be for everyone, but lovers of magic, alternate histories, and lengthy books will find it satisfying.

Other Reviews:
Layers of Thought
Reading 2011 (and Beyond)