Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel
English magicians were once the wonder of the known world, with fairy servants at their beck and call; they could command winds, mountains, and woods. But by the early 1800s they have long since lost the ability to perform magic. They can only write long, dull papers about it, while fairy servants are nothing but a fading memory.
But at Hurtfew Abbey in Yorkshire, the rich, reclusive Mr Norrell has assembled a wonderful library of lost and forgotten books from England’s magical past and regained some of the powers of England’s magicians. He goes to London and raises a beautiful young woman from the dead. Soon he is lending his help to the government in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte, creating ghostly fleets of rain-ships to confuse and alarm the French.
All goes well until a rival magician appears. Jonathan Strange is handsome, charming, and talkative-the very opposite of Mr Norrell. Strange thinks nothing of enduring the rigors of campaigning with Wellington’s army and doing magic on battlefields. Astonished to find another practicing magician, Mr Norrell accepts Strange as a pupil. But it soon becomes clear that their ideas of what English magic ought to be are very different. For Mr Norrell, their power is something to be cautiously controlled, while Jonathan Strange will always be attracted to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic. He becomes fascinated by the ancient, shadowy figure of the Raven King, a child taken by fairies who became king of both England and Faerie, and the most legendary magician of all. Eventually Strange’s heedless pursuit of long-forgotten magic threatens to destroy not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything that he holds dear.
Sophisticated, witty, and ingeniously convincing, Susanna Clarke’s magisterial novel weaves magic into a flawlessly detailed vision of historical England. She has created a world so thoroughly enchanting that eight hundred pages leave readers longing for more.
It’s 1808 and that Corsican upstart Napoleon is battering the English army and navy. Enter Mr. Norrell, a fusty but ambitious scholar from the Yorkshire countryside and the first practical magician in hundreds of years. What better way to demonstrate his revival of British magic than to change the course of the Napoleonic wars? Susanna Clarke’s ingenious first novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, has the cleverness and lightness of touch of the Harry Potter series, but is less a fairy tale of good versus evil than a fantastic comedy of manners, complete with elaborate false footnotes, occasional period spellings, and a dense, lively mythology teeming beneath the narrative. Mr. Norrell moves to London to establish his influence in government circles, devising such powerful illusions as an 11-day blockade of French ports by English ships fabricated from rainwater. But however skillful his magic, his vanity provides an Achilles heel, and the differing ambitions of his more glamorous apprentice, Jonathan Strange, threaten to topple all that Mr. Norrell has achieved. A sparkling debut from Susanna Clarke—and it’s not all fairy dust. —Regina Marler
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When Susanna Clarke set out to write her sensational first novel, she determined to write a book about magic that would keep readers from their coveted sleep. She has certainly succeeded. A hefty doorstop of a book, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell has already drawn comparisons to works by Dickens, Austen, and the Harry Potter books. Set in early-19th-century England, Clarke’s novel introduces readers to a group of magicians from whom the “magic” has departed. Enter Mr. Norrell, a misanthropic, book-hoarding magician who takes up a challenge to prove that magic still exists.
After Mr. Norrell succeeds at his ambitious endeavor, he takes on a pupil, the charismatic Jonathan Strange, and together they begin to restore the sorry state of English magic. But a rift opens between these two allies, leading them to turn their magic on each other, and a darker, more sinister magic begins to reveal itself.
Clarke’s ambitious epic is packed with twists and turns, as she leads readers through mysterious doorways, down magical pathways, and into other worlds. Filled with quirky characters and eerie places, it’s frightening, moving, and very often witty. In her stunningly original and accomplished first novel, Susanna Clarke has created a completely convincing “historical” account magic’s role in changing the course of history—a work chock-full of the most fun a “smart” book has ever contained. (Holiday 2004 Selection)