Reviewed by Ambrea
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark chronicles the lives and adventures of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, England’s—and, perhaps, the world’s—last practicing magicians. Despite their kinship in magic, Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange are astonishingly different and sorely opposed in their beliefs. Norrell, a studious little man who prefers the company of books to people, who loves the precision of magical spells and incantations, and Strange, a natural to his craft and an adventurous explorer in the chaotic principles of magic, frequently clash over doctrine and knowledge.
But a dangerous new threat has arisen within the borders of Britain. Awakened by the curious activities of the two magicians, attracted to the sudden flux of magic, one of the Fae—an ancient and powerfully malevolent race of magical beings nearly forgotten by history—has made plans for the magicians. And he won’t accept anything less than their suffering.
I will simply say it: Clark’s novel is wonderful.
Intricate and complex, it weaves together ancient lore, modern history, and fantasy to form a beautifully executed and fantastically well-written story. I absolutely love that Clark incorporates such magnificent details in describing individual characters, giving them such unique qualities, crafting unusually endearing—and, occasionally, repulsive—characters. Her villains are more villainous, her heroes are more complicated, and her tales and plot twists are more enchanting.
I particularly love the thoughtful character connections she incorporates in her novel. The links between Norrell and Strange are intriguing and, sometimes, astonishing, and their mutual friendships—their mutual experience with a certain, diabolical Faery—makes the development of the story all the more interesting.
However, I think I most enjoyed Clark’s decision to include crucial historical events, such as the Napoleonic Wars. As a lover of history, I was impressed by the depth and breadth of her knowledge, her painstaking care in recreating history, and, more importantly, her ability to combine absolute fantasy with real, historical fact.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a favorite of mine. I love that it’s full of magic and madness and malevolent spirits, like the bloodthirsty and beautiful Fae, that fantasy and history entwine to created one monumental novel. The author has a real skill for combining disparate elements to make a novel that’s both thrilling and enjoyable.