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on 4 May 2017
Great book. Sure anyone will love. Story is amazing and while epic long it flies by with all the twist and turns.
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on 29 April 2017
Brilliantly realised not quite our world.
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on 2 June 2015
Mystical adventure with likeable characters and villains. Even enjoyed the chapters with magicians trying to fool the French in the Napoleonic war. Fabulously entertaining.
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on 12 September 2017
Rather a stretch, too many yawns. Very overrated.
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on 21 July 2017
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on 22 March 2017
In short, a dusty gentleman called Mr Norrell attempts to bring magic back to the world, and along the way takes on a flamboyant assistant called Jonathan Strange who soon outshines them. They have a disagreement. A creature from the realms of magic takes umbrage against them. There are twists, and some turns.

A nutshell summary of this massive book does it no justice at all. It’s an exceptionally rich read, full of complex, flawed characters, told with a dry and infectious academic wit, that sketches out a whole alternate history crammed with anecdotes and short stories in the footnotes alone. It’s often funny, sometimes cruel, and utterly immersive (as some of you will know, that is the highest praise I can give a fiction). The beginning moves slowly as the necessarily rather difficult to savour Mr Norrell begins his mission, but when Strange arrives on the scene it cracks along. Seeds sown early reap an abundance of fruit later on, and the sprawling narrative takes so many unexpected turns along the way that I found myself constantly delighted. Clarke subverts the natural structure of a story like this at every opportunity, with even the show stopping climax delivering deliciously unpredictable shifts and balances that took me by surprise. It soaked up almost a month of my reading year, but doesn’t feel that way. When I was away from it, I wanted only to return. I wish I hadn’t read it at all, so that I could now read it for the first time.

This is probably one of my favourite books now. So there.
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on 19 January 2017
This is without doubt one of the finest books I've ever read. I was a little unsure at first. The style is (deliberately) old-fashioned and the pace very slow. If you haven't the patience for that, then this is not the book for you - I suspect that every one of the 1star reviews are due to style. It hasn't been sliced and diced by an editor to hit the modern profit sweetspot of 70-80k words (and thank you so much Bloomsbury for understanding the need to leave it be. Cutting it to the desirable size for a new author would have destroyed it).

If you have the patience, or are a fan of 18th and 19th century fiction, then buy it! Buy it now! It's fabulous. There's a rich fictional history that is slowly exposed through footnotes, alongside a story of two deeply flawed men, each blundering along a magical path they believe they understand, but which is utterly obscured from their view. There are no obvious heroes or villains here. No clearcut moral values. Mistakes are made and consequences felt.

It's rare I'll read a book that has me exclaiming aloud at the actions of a character, knowing that it will cause mayhem and yet having only the dimmest notion what the consequences will be. It's even rarer to read something where I truly don't know where it's going. There's no wellworn literary path here, no tired story tropes.

Without saying too much and spoiling it I don't know what else to say. Just buy it. Do it now.
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on 2 July 2016
Captivating, fascinating, scary. Some aspects almost believable in that you wish they were true, others so frightening that you are very glad the life that might lie around the corner can never creep out to whisk you off to that appalling ballroom. Almost impossible to review seriously because it is so unusual it can only be compared with 'Gormenghast' in modern English literature, I'd like to know how much of this false magical history is true in some weird way about ancient legends and the beliefs of early 19th century mystics and sorcerers? I enjoyed it so much on my Kindle and on TV that aI went and bought the hardback 1st edition because I wanted the 'thing' of the book itself. It is really meaty and attractive in the hand and even has illustrations; they don't quite compare to Mervyn Peake's in artistic terms, but they belong to the story's period and add greatly both to the volume's atmosphere of dreadful fascination and to my hunch that it might be seriously valuable in twenty or thirty years. A real five star achievement for Susanna Clarke (and the TV actors and producers) can we have more magical frighteners of this quality please?
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Most fantasy books are merely bad ripoffs of Tolkien, or other well-known (though not always great) authors. Hero's journey, quests, stock characters, etc.

But Susanna Clarke dazzles in a subtle way in her debut novel, "Jonathan Clarke & Mr. Norrell," a sprawling historical-fantasy opus that took a decade to write. Think if Jane Austen had written fantasy about feuding magicians, and you'll have a pretty good idea of how this reads -- a slow-moving and intricate story, presented with a delicate, sumptuous style like a bejeweled silk gown transformed into words.

It's the early 19th century, in England. The Napoleonic wars threaten England, but that's not the only struggle going on. Magic is all but dead in England; the so-called magicians don't actually want to handle it, but want to leave it to old books and stories. Once the English magicians were powerful and respected, but now they just write boring essays about magic. Except for Mr. Norrell, a cautious little Yorkshire man who taught himself how to do magic.

However, things take a twist when he gives his help in the battle against Napolean -- a new magician enters the scene, the enthusiastic and charming Jonathan Strange. The two magicians begin to work together, but things begin to go awry when Mr. Norrell realizes that Jonathan is attracted to all magic -- including the more dangerous varieties. He's increasingly fascinated by the legend of the Raven King, a changeling child who ruled Faerie and Earth...

Historical fantasies have rarely been as detailed and rich as this one -- usually either the "historic" or the "fantasy" is abused. Often the best authors can do is write alternate universe stories where America lost the Revolution, the Roman Empire never fell, or vampires existed since time immemorial, and so on. But Susanna Clarke shatters that with her richly-realized look at 19th-century Britain, with unique magic and a slight mythologic twist. This is an England where, even though magic is stagnant, it's still something of rich power, awesome presence, and the creatures involved in it are completely otherworldly.

Clarke keeps her writing solid, detailed and dignified, also footnoting extensively, with little wry winks and nudges to keep the book from being too serious. It does get tedious at times, and the finale gets a bit stretched out, but the positive far outweighs the negative. She has a flair for the historical parts of the book, keeping dates, battles, and political movement entwined in the plot.

But she doesn't neglect the fantasy either; there's a mythic flavor in the story of the Raven King and the old magicians, reminiscent of old legends from ancient times. Her handling of magic is especially good -- less is more, and hints of past greatness make the magic all the more stunning.

The title characters are the best of the book -- both are products of their times. Mr. Norrell is cautious, studious, ingenious and quiet, the sort of person you could imagine chatting with some classic author about the nuances of their work. On the other hand, Strange has more of the wild, society-be-damned wit that characterized some great artists of that time -- like a less promiscuous, more magical Lord Byron. And there's a memorable array of supporting characters -- servants, faeries, scholars and the like.

If Jane Austen had written like Diana Wynne-Jones, the result would have been something like "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell." Well-written, enticing and thoroughly original, this is a keeper.
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on 7 January 2012
I finished reading this exquisite novel last night - and am exceedingly sad as a consequence. This book is one of a very rare breed; the kind of book you want to continue reading forever. The writing is perfectly polished whilst being extremely accessible. Reading it feels likes drinking cocoa and wearing comfy slippers - the prose flows through your ears and slips into your mind with the ease of a conversation with an old friend.. There is no effort required on the reader's part, which is an incredible feat considering the actual subject matter is of such a complex and considered nature.
I have read some of the one and two-star reviews on Amazon and am amazed to see people complain of a "lack of plot". If you want a simple book with a straightforward beginning, middle and end, perhaps you would do well to steer clear of this one. This novel is like a fine vintage win, full of delicate notes and sublte undertones - it does not have the immediate hit of a shot of vodka.
It is a book of tremendous wit and humour which is subtly nuanced not forced into your face. I found myself laughing aloud several times at the satirical observations on history and politics.
The characters possess real depth and their natures evolve realistically throughout the novel - by "realistically" I mean that they alter gradually and slightly. This is not a heavy-handed work of fiction where the bad guy renounces his sins at the end and becomes good.
I feel desperately sorry for anyone who read this book and didn't feel its full power. This is a book to luxuriate in and is the best novel I have read in many years - one for the real literature lovers who appreciate style AND substance equally.
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