Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Susanna Clarke
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Cover

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell


When I first started this one, I was worried. It's a pretty big book, you know? I might not like it. After all, my last run in with rival magicians (namey, The Night Circus) went down terribly! And yet, I started this novel (with some trepidation), and the next thing I knew, I was neck deep in magic, Regency England, the Napoleonic Wars and Mad King George III. And it never once felt boring, or like it dragged on without any resolution. There was never a part where I genuinely felt the 1,006 pages weighing heavily on me.

From the library at Hurtfew to Venice, over the King's Roads and through mirrors, this story of the revival of English magic never pauses to preach or pass judgement. The main characters, Strange and Norrell, are complete opposites: one is an extrovert, constantly striving to make magic practical, while the other is an introvert, for whom magic is the study of spells, not the senseless dive into the unknown. Naturally, the two views collide, and a rivalry of sorts develops.

If there's one thing that Clarke does incredibly well, it's character development (and this is not to say that it comes at the expense of plot, or a well thought out magic system). From Strange to Arabella to Norrell, from Drawlight to Lascelles to the gentleman with thistle-down hair to Stephen Black and Lady Pole, they all come alive and elicit the entire gamut of reactions: anger, fear, despair, sadness, joy and wonder. Every single chapter is a delight, and I never once felt pulled along, or bored. The difference between social classes is starkly exemplified, as is the fickle side of human nature, and they are all done in an incredibly thoughtful manner.

About 800 pages in, I realised that I could read 800 more. I actually dreaded finishing a book, a feeling I haven't experienced in quite some time. More than anything, this feels like such a complete novel. It is a fantasy novel, yes, but it's also a satire of Regency society, it's a critique of social class, it's a character study, a historical novel and a treatise for the revival of English magic. I fear that five stars really do not do it justice.