Customer Review

10 of 11 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
This review is from: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Paperback)
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines ">here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking on the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in


Tracked by 1 customer

Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Mar 2012 21:36:34 GMT
Eileen Shaw says:
If you mean you lost interest, why not say so. It's also possible that other people didn't.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Nov 2014 21:17:43 GMT
What point are you trying to make Ms Shaw?

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Dec 2014 14:38:06 GMT
Last edited by the author on 3 Dec 2014 14:42:42 GMT
Eileen Shaw says:
Merely saying that I adored this book - all of it. I didn't lose interest but found it utterly captivating in every respect. I didn't find the finale drawn out, etc. etc. Your review is excellent, but I don't agree with your criticisms.
‹ Previous 1 Next ›

Review Details



A. Whitehead "Werthead"

Location: Colchester, Essex United Kingdom

Top Reviewer Ranking: 314