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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, but suffers from pacing issues and a drawn-out finale.
Released in 2004, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was a huge success for its author, who had spent ten years writing the novel. It sat on the bestseller lists for quite some time, was hugely promoted (for over a year I couldn't go into either of my local Waterstones without seeing the book everywhere) and won both the 2005 Hugo Award and World Fantasy Awardfor Best...
Published on 27 Jun 2008 by A. Whitehead

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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fear this book? Or long to behold it?
This is Susannah Clarke's first novel, and it is a tremendous literary achievement.

As the title suggests, the novel centres on the turbulent relationship between two 19th-century magicians, Gilbert Norrell and Jonathan Strange, and is set in a fictitious England, like ours in all respects except that magic works and fairies are real. Norrell seeks to keep...
Published on 4 Aug 2005 by Preacherdoc


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, but suffers from pacing issues and a drawn-out finale., 27 Jun 2008
By 
A. Whitehead "Werthead" (Colchester, Essex United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Released in 2004, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was a huge success for its author, who had spent ten years writing the novel. It sat on the bestseller lists for quite some time, was hugely promoted (for over a year I couldn't go into either of my local Waterstones without seeing the book everywhere) and won both the 2005 Hugo Award and World Fantasy Awardfor Best Novel. Unusually for a self-proclaimed fantasy novel, it was also longlisted for the 2005 Booker Prize (which normally prefers authors who refuse to admit their novels are SF or fantasy, such as Margaret Atwood). Time Magazine also named it the best novel of 2004.

The book opens in the early 19th Century. Britain used to be a centre of magical prowess and for three hundred years a powerful magician ruled a kingdom in the north (based around Newcastle) before disappearing, but in recent centuries magic has faded out of view and become purely a theoretical science. A theoretical magician, John Segundus, discovers a 'real' magician named Mr. Gilbert Norrell and reluctantly convinces him to make his magical abilities known to the public at large. At first resistant to the idea, Norrell soon changes his mind and finds himself the toast of London society and is greatly valued by the King and Parliament for the magical aid he gives in the war against Napoleon. However, Norrell's profile is upstaged by the emergence of a new magician, the young and handsome Jonathan Strange. Norrell sees Strange as headstrong and dangerous, whilst Strange thinks Norrell is controlling and old-fashioned. As their feud escalates across the years, a lord of faerie, known only as the 'gentleman with thistle-down hair', returns to Earth and sets in motion a number of villainous plans that ensnares a beautiful young woman and a black servant of kingly countenance.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is a terrific and major accomplishment in fantasy writing: the recreation of a 19th Century novel as if it was written by Dickens or Austen with magic merely part of the backdrop. It is a rich book dripping in atmosphere and, at times, humour that is reminiscent of Jack Vance but fits in with the time period. The core of the plot - the rivalry between the two magicians - is simple, but the details that embellish it make it far more complex and involving. The book is accompanied by intriguing and amusing footnotes and some excellent Victorian-esque illustrations by Portia Rosenberg.

Indeed, for much of its considerable length the book looks like it's going to walk off with top marks. Unfortunately, it hits a snag about two-thirds of the way into the volume that threatens to unbalance the whole enterprise. Having already channelled Dickens and Austen with the merest dash of Tolstoy in the short battle sequences, Clarke seems to have decided that what the book really needed was some kind of extended European adventure in which our main characters are put through hell and back, suffering illnesses and bouts of insanity, almost as if she wanted to put Strange through a Byron or Keats-esque nightmarish wringer for the sheer hell of it. And it seems to go on forever. If I hadn't been on holiday at the time with this as the only book to hand, I question whether I could have gotten through it. The book does recover somewhat towards the end, with an intriguing reapproachment between Strange and Norrell that unfolds in a totally unexpected way with a somewhat appropriate ending, but the unexpected, extended interlude of misery into a story enlivened by its earlier, lighter moments is a jarring tonal shift that makes it difficult to recommend the book unreservedly.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell (***½) is a book that very nearly achieves greatness through is rich character-building, its lavish descriptions and lively humour, but is let down by an unnecessarily long and drawn out latter third. If you can bear with it, the novel does ultimately end with a fitting conclusion, but it's possible you may lose interest before that point.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting - literally!, 29 Nov 2005
By 
This book is such a pleasure! As several other readers have pointed out it is indeed, very long. And it isn't a 'page turner' that races you along because of a plot driven narrative, but it lures the reader in nonetheless. Its a bit like an absolutely delicious, but very, very rich traditional fruit cake, so if you really want to get the best out of it, its better savoured and enjoyed rather than crammed down in one sitting!
I think the Thackeray comparisons are quite accurate, more so than the Austen ones, as she writes on a 'world historical stage', as Thackeray did in his time.
Yes this is certainly a high, fantastical novel but not really 'an adult Harry Potter' - perhaps, more properly a magical view of real history. She sets the book as if it were written 'now' in the early 1800's, with a literary style to match. She writes about the Napoleonic Wars as if they were happening. There is a wealth of historical detail, colour and flavour - and into this, she injects a famtasy about magicians - but because she sets this magic firmly within the historical context, - even down to the brilliant device of citing earlier magical texts (which don't exist of course!) which she quotes extensively from in the footnotes you will find yourself believing this alternative view of history.
Beautifully written, very funny - in a sly and witty manner - and also terribly moving, I was torn between the desire to finish it - and also couldn't bear to finish it.
I'm not altogether sure whether the history books' descriptions of how England won the Napoleonic Wars may not be the fantasy version, and Clarke's version - disappearing armies, altering landscapes and resurrected soldiers of earth isn't the true version after all!
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An incredible read, 29 Nov 2006
By 
P. Smith (Suffolk, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Hardcover)
An amazing book. How on earth the author managed to maintain so strongly the Dickensian/Jane Austenian(!) feel of the narrative I have no idea. It took me all of 3 months to read it - there was no possibility of "skipping" a passage because the whole book was so very readable and, may I say, even gripping in places - it would have been a pity to have missed any little bit of it! The principal characters are so real, despite many of them being obviously fictional and drawn from the realms of fantasy (difficult to understand, if you like), so that the reader is drawn into a web of fantasy woven into a story with some of the factual characters of history (Lord Byron, the Duke of Wellington, etc) as well as those which dwell only in the author's imagination. The footnotes are a joy - taking the story off at a tangent, but without losing the plot and returning it safely to the matter in hand. Not everyone's cup of tea, I have no doubt, but I and many of my friends thought it wonderful! A book which I will not send off to a charity shop, but which will live on my bookshelf for many years to come, to be re-read again and again, such is its charm and charisma. It will be interesting to see what the author comes up with next! Can't wait!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read in a Suffolk field, 31 July 2011
By 
T. Harvey "Tim" (UK) - See all my reviews
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I took this book with me when I went camping last week in Suffolk. The location was enchanting - the magical beauty of the surrounding trees, fields and overcast English skies a perfect backdrop for the magic emanating from the pages of this wonderful book. I loved it and can't recommend it enough.
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132 of 144 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm with Neil Gaiman, 8 Oct 2004
By 
Ec Sutcliffe "Lizbet" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Hardcover)
This is truly a fantastic book. I can't praise it highly enough. The plot, characters, pacing and, above all, the back story, make this a brilliant novel and a fantastic début. And, being a Yorkshire lass myself, it was certainly gratifying to find a novel that doesn't rampantly stereotype all Northerners.
The story begins in 1806, when two theoretical magicians with the wonderfully Dickensian names of Segundus and Honeyfoot encounter the reclusive scholar, Mr Norrell. Their quest is to find out why magic, which was once so common in England, particularly in the North under the 300 year reign of the Raven King John Uskglass, is now a distant history to be studied by gentlemen like themselves. But they discover that, for all his bookish and condescending ways, Mr Norrell is in fact a practical magician, which he proves by bringing all the statues in York Minster/Cathedral to life. Having brought his powers to the attention of the public, he immediately sets of to London, where he plans to help in the war effort against Napoleon, and in the process resurrect English magic.
At first he is not taken seriously, and it soon becomes clear Norrell will go to any lengths to become the only magician in England. But when he encounters Jonathan Strange, another magician, he seems to wake up to new possibilities. He takes Strange on as a pupil. But the two men are too different for the partnership to last. Norrell is secretive and unfriendly, hoarding magical knowledge and desperately preserving his own prestige. Strange is charming and gregarious, and becomes a hero in the wars. What starts off as mild rivalry soon escalates into a feud, with far reaching consequences.
If you've see the size of this book, you'll understand it's a hard thing to summarize. At almost 800 pages it's not a coffee table book, it's a coffee table. But don't be put off. It's fast moving, brilliantly written, wryly amusing and full of nods to the ghosts of literature past. It's also quite beautiful, and I'm not just talking about the pretty cover. It's part Lord of the Rings, part Harry Potter, part The Crimson Petal And The White and part Jane Austen. I raced through it in 3 days, and am already halfway through my second reading. Apparently there's a sequel in the pipeline, and at the minute I'd gladly put back Harry Potter 6 by years to have that instead.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy this book!, 19 Jan 2006
By A Customer
This book is absolutely brilliant! I loved every moment of reading it and was so dissappointed to read other such negative reviews. Just because a book takes more than a couple of hours to read does not make it in any way tedious. By the end of the novel the reader is truly able to engage with the characters. The presentation of magic is amazing- it is viewed simply as part of the everyday world. People expecting a fantasy novel with ridiculous characters who bare no resemblance to reality will be dissappointed. This is an amazing literary work and I absolutely loved it all the way through.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A different kind of magic, 27 Jun 2006
By 
Louise Amkaer (Greenland) - See all my reviews
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The year is 1806 when the York society of magicians approach Mr. Norrell, which marks the starting point of this elaborate novel of the revival of practical English magic.

This book with Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange is a novel from the beginning of the 19th century, which just so happens to be written in the present millenium. The pages are springled with old-fashioned spellings and footnotes to the novice reader, who is not acquainted with English magic.

The story and the way it is written, reflects the beginning of the 19th century, Mr. Norrell's persona, and the prolonged time it takes to study English magic - albeit only in theory.

The novel demands a courteous presentation and acquaintance, before the reader is entranced to the point of obsession.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A massive novel that could still have gone further, 1 Feb 2006
I loved this book, really loved it. It weighed a ton but I still couldn't put it down. When I read it I had recently finished a degree module on the History of Magic and this book certainly tuned into the right feeling on that score. Having said that, though it was gripping in most places and peopled with some wonderful characters, the story did creak and groan at times and the one character I really wanted to know more about - John Childermass - really didn't get the attention he deserved. Much as I enjoyed the main characters Childermass was by far the most complex and should have been made much more of - his was the cameo role that stole the show. Perhaps there's another book there? Afterall, Tolkein did it for Tom Bombadil.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange by name, strange by nature, 7 May 2006
By 
Victoria Bristow (Nottingham, UK) - See all my reviews
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The main virtue of this book is the way in which it portrays the magical, the surreal and the ridiculous whilst still assuring the reader of the seriousness of the overall endeavour. Whether its painting a scene with lashings of black humour, or dwelling casually on the gruesomeness of the living dead, we are convinced of the writer's commitment to genuine realism both in the characterisation and in the dynamics of the narrative. Whilst the Regency England depicted in the novel is a magical one, there is an internal consistency and wonderful focus on detail which draws us in to an experience which is the ultimate in escapism. The style and orthography of the writing makes you feel like you are entering a different world every time you open the book. The pseudo-eighteenth century style and orthography isn't quite authentic but gets about as close as the setting does to the historical one and creates the same kind of effect - the sense that you have happened upon some artifact of the past, but which doesn't quite match up with the reality we've always been told about. At some points in the book you almost find yourself believing that sorcery was a respected academic discipline in the early nineteenth century - they did wear those ridiculous wigs after all.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Persevere and it's worth it, 16 April 2010
By 
A. M. Bland (Wales) - See all my reviews
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`Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell' is a fantastical story of old fashioned magic interweaved with the historical events of nineteenth century England. Mr Norrell considers himself to be the last practitioner of magic, stemming from a previous era when magic was commonplace under the reign of the mysterious John Uskglass. Mr Norrell initially confirms his magician credentials through making statues come to life as well as reviving a recently deceased woman. However, in meddling with dangerous magic he brings forth a sinister yet fascinating character known as `the gentleman with the thistledown hair', who tip toes in and out of the novel with menacing schemes to restore fairrie power to England.
After stumbling in to the world of magic Jonathon Strange becomes an apprentice to Mr Norrell and seeks to use his new found skills to assist England in the Napoleonic war. He creates naval fleets from water, movable countryside and hands of sand which rise from the ground to cause havoc for the enemy forces. He soon becomes an essential asset to Wellington's war effort.
As the novel progresses darker forces provide challenges for the magical duo, and the plot twists and turns to fulfil prophesies, explore yet more wondrous feats of magic and cleverly tie all the story threads together.
Although Susanna Clarke's imagination seems limitless and a joy for most to read, at 800 pages and with a sometimes slow pace this book can prove difficult, but if you persevere you are rewarded with a highly original and captivating story.

"Can a magician kill a man by magic?" Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. "I suppose a magician might," he admitted, "but a gentleman never could."
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