Susanna Clarke’s premiere novel, “Jonathan Strange
& Mr. Norrell,” is a groundbreaking fantasy that
intertwines magic and history into a remarkably plausible legend.
This behemoth work, with 10 years of preparation and 800 pages to
its name, is a thorough submersion into a world where magic is
real, myth is alive and consciousness is what Clarke dictates.

Book Reviews

Though its premise is exotic, the reader is quickly enchanted
with the novel’s quirky charm. Combining mysticism and
science with legend and history, Clarke artfully merges the elitist
worlds of Dickens, Austen and Byron with English folklore in this
fantastic story of two magicians who strive to restore magic to
London.

The novel describes how magic was once a thriving aspect of
historical England, instituted by the legendary Raven King. But in
the novel’s haughty early 19th century era, magic has been
diluted to a pedantic study reserved for upper-class gentlemen
scholars. Eventually the demands to reinstate practical magic soon
weigh heavy on scholars. The reticent bookworm Mr. Norrell emerges
into the limelight from a reserved life of solitude, and through a
series of marvelous events, his astounding skill is publicly
exposed to London’s most notable acclaim.

Simultaneously, the young and dashing Jonathan Strange surfaces
with his newfound magical powers and even becomes Norrell’s
first pupil. The British government, at the height of the
Napoleonic Wars, calls upon the two magicians to enlist their
services to combat the emperor; in these collisions of history with
mysticism, Clarke illustrates some of her most imaginative and
compelling scenes. Despite his apprenticeship with Norrell, Strange
grows restless under the restraints placed on his art. Driven by
anxiety and determination, he sets out to show England his magical
prowess, but fails by dangerously overstepping his bounds.

This sensational novel will quench the thirst of any reader. For
the historian, Clarke offers tedious detail of historical Great
Britain ornamented with mysticism. The charming plot, inevitably
compared to the “Harry Potter” or “The Lord of
the Rings” series, will tickle the minds of any child with an
ounce of imagination, while every avid reader will appreciate the
clever and poignant writing Clarke has created. The only
disappointment of the novel is that it ends — the reader
can’t help but want more after living in Clark’s
vibrant world. Finally, here is a fantasy novel that has writing
and imagination as magical as its characters and story.

For a novel of this length and stature, though, it falls short
of becoming more than just a fantasy. Though it is a comprehensive
submersion into historical England twisted with the spice of magic
and myth, it hardly transcends genuine entertainment. The reader is
left wanting more, perhaps, because there is so much untapped
potential in a work as ingenious and amiable as this. But if
amusement is all the reader is craving, he will have his fill with
“Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.”

 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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