Book Review: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

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Title: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Author: Susanna Clarke
Publication Date: 2004
Publishing House: Bloomsbury USA

Back in January I read Nail Gaiman’s The View from the Cheap Seats. And in addition to Gaiman suggesting some great bands, he also talks about other books. Some of those books are ones he read and some, like this one, he read once he was already an established author. This is a book I’d heard about but hadn’t read until now. This copy I picked up from the local library. Support your library!


The year is 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, and centuries have passed since practical magicians faded into the nation’s past. But scholars of this glorious history discover that one remains: the reclusive Mr Norrell, whose displays of magic send a thrill through the country. 

Proceeding to London, he raises a beautiful woman from the dead and summons an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French. Yet the cautious, fussy Norrell is challenged by the emergence of another magician: the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. 

Young, handsome and daring, Strange is the very antithesis of Norrell. So begins a dangerous battle between these two great men which overwhelms that between England and France. And their own obsessions and secret dabblings with the dark arts are going to cause more trouble than they can imagine.

Why are the Napoleonic Wars such a great bit of history for historical fiction? This is the second book I’ve read that has the Napoleonic Wars as part – but not all – of the conflict. The other is the Temeraire Series, if you are curious.

Woods were ringed with a colour so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a colour at all. It was more the idea of a colour – as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts.

― Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

I don’t like Norrell as a character, honestly, I don’t think anyone is supposed to really like Norrell. That being said, he is not even close to being the most questionable character. Norrell is so sure that he is the only one that is correct in all things magical that he doesn’t even let anyone else try. Strange doesn’t ask Norrell for his approval before doing magic, he just does it. Norrell accepts Strange as a pupil because he realizes that he is lonely and wants another magician to talk to about magical things.

Strange is the more practical of the two practical English magicians. He lends magical aid on the battle field vs safe at home like Norrell. Now, that’s not to say that Strange doesn’t have his own faults. He tends to focus so much one project that he completely ignores everything else – sometimes to his detriment.

Think of me with my nose in a book!

― Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

I enjoyed this book because the characters are well written. Most are not all good or all bad, they are people acting, oftentimes, in their own self interest. One thing the reader learns is not to attract the interest of the sidhe (fairy folk). I suggest this book for fans of magic, for fans of magic infused historical fiction, and Gaiman fans looking for something else to read. Happy reading!

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