Overview (No Spoilers):
“Think of me with my nose in a book”
When looking for my next book, I found Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrell on several different must read lists from separate sources. Upon investigating this debut novel by Clarke, I found many, many reviews where readers were generous with high praise, even lauding this book as their favorite of all time. Going into this read, I had such lofty expectations for this Hugo winner that I spent almost all of this weighty tome trying to resolve my pre read anticipation with my actual experience reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.
The setting and magical system in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is an interesting merging of regency era society with traditional sorcery. This novel starts out with the field of magicians being exclusively occupied by only upper class gentlemen, with magic itself being relegated to myth and the theoretical realm, until Mr. Norrell emerges on the scene in a spectacular debut. After Mr. Norrell’s brilliant display, the pacing of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell becomes glacial at best. The ever unfulfilled promise for action and plot twists is left waiting in the wings. Clarke weaves a story that navigates through the quagmire of politics and society by the power of its literary world and characters alone. As someone who never leaves a story unfinished, I was sorely tempted to walk away from this novel at almost 20 hours into the audiobook.
I recognize that my review thus far of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell has been rather harsh, despite there being bright spots throughout. The characters and the worldbuilding are fantastic, with Clarke creating vibrant personalities that shine, especially when trapped by the whims of a decidedly crazy fairy. Much of this read is tragic, while being significantly layered with mystery and hidden meaning. The writing itself is quite elegant, carrying the story ever forward with eloquent prose befitting of the time period.
Overall, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a fascinating reimagining regency England, with the magic of sorcery, though its pacing becomes bogged down in proprietary and bureaucratic red tape.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- Who was John Uskglass actually?
- Will Strange and Norrell break the curse?
- Why couldn’t Strange’s wife actually be with him even with the curse?
- What happened to the rest of the trapped people in Fairy?
- I feel like the potential of magic was minimally explored, with mainly a focus on war.
- Norrell was so terrible to John Childermass. What kept his loyalty.
- I wish Norrell had become aware of how Christopher Drawlight and Henry Lascelles manipulated him.
- Poor Walter Pole and his wife Emma. They had years of misery.
- I want to know more about Vinculus’ book.
- Are there other fairies?
- The dangerous madness magic was so bizarre to read about.
I recognise what you say, but must admit I was so caught up in the Raven King figure … for quite some time. And the fairy/faery here is threatening, dangerous, and so thrilling.
There is so much history behind the Uskglass character, like the Harrying of the North, under William 1, when the whole character of English north-south relations soured for centuries.
I loved this book, but I found the slow pace to be a feature, not a bug 😉 I imagine most of the charm of the footnotes would be lost in audiobook format. I’m curious if you have enjoyed either Piranesi which was much shorter or perhaps other regency Era novels? I can certainly see why JS&MN would not be to everyone’s tastes!