I read both of Grossman's Magician books, and I enjoyed and recommend those without reservation. There, he created interesting characters and your journey with them through an exciting story arcs gracefully from beginning to end.
In Codex however, the main story starts very slowly, after many minutes of defining the main character as an entitled, shallow, and barely likable guy. I developed a theory about halfway through that the author was following some sort of novelist's rulebook that contained requirements like "when describing a character's action (especially a love interest), always use exactly two adjectives; e.g. 'as she turned, her silky, raven hair fanned out in a sensuous, liquid arc before coming to rest on her slender, tanned shoulder.' " If there was a drinking game where you had to take a swig of beer every time that happened, you'd pass out by chapter 8.
The narrator's delivery is flat when reading plot, sometimes singsongy when reading descriptions (I think he noticed the author adhering to the above rule too), but very good when doing character voices.
Throughout the story I kept thinking things like 'this reminds me of Da Vinci Code' or 'this reminds me of a Neal Stephenson book.' I don't consider it a bad thing if that happens, and I kept thinking 'yeah, but I wonder where Grossman's going to go with that already proven idea...'
Unfortunately, it goes almost nowhere. I'm echoing other reviewers, but this book doesn't do much more than POINT to tasty plot potentials and only randomly does it seem to let us have so much as a bite.
The one area where we are served an unexpectedly rich treat was all the time spent describing the history of books. Had he spent more time taking us down those paths, and less time half-explaining the things that were supposedly propelling the plot and motivating the characters, I don't think I'd have felt the book so objectionable.
I haven't written many reviews, and I feel bad coming out strongly against what obviously took a ton of effort to create. This is the first time ( in many years as an avid Audible listener ) that I feel the difference between what I enjoyed and what I didn't like were so wildly out of balance.
A quick historical recap: the Supreme Court was created to balance partisan voices on the left and the right. Justices are beholden to no one. Perhaps they lean one way or the other - don't we all? - but they are there to look hard at cases, think about constitutionality, and make rulings. The Constitution is the Constitution. There's only so much wiggle room there.
This book spins a yarn about the conspiracy of the Supreme Court to invent facts and swing the nation towards its hippie views (ok, maybe that's a bit extreme, but still).
My take: "Men In Black" is no more accurate a read on the Supreme Court than "The National Enquirer" is on the news.
If you're angry about the direction this country is taking, this book will make you angrier, but no closer to finding a real path toward a solution.
If you're afraid of the right wing propoganda machine, this book will offer more fodder at which to scoff and fear. Again, no closer to a solution.
We're a diverse nation. We're going to have diverse views. Grow up and get on with it, Mr. Levin.
I'm definitely in the camp with those who LOVE this book, rather than those who think it's length and breadth are a detriment.
Some stories are told in such a way that you're in the passenger seat of a sports car at high speed - you feel the road, are aware of every upcoming curve, and are gripping the seat for dear life. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is not like this.
Think of this book like a long distance train ride: the story is delivered in a smooth, civilized way, at a pace that never seems excessive, even though the countryside the writer covers is beautiful and expansive, the horizons out every window are lush and as stretch as far as you can look. The pace is such that you have lots of time to become familiar with this world, with the characters, even though the amount of information delivered is vast.
That being said, there are a million small details, and if you aren't paying attention you might miss something that will become important information in holding together the strands of the story in the upcoming landscape: the significance of a river, a footnoted character, the location of a town.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is not a book you should listen to if you want a high speed romp through a sorcerer's battlefield. It is a book you should listen to if you want to give your brain a story to chew on that's interesting, a world that's just a twist from our own (i.e. with the additon of magic), that's been written and read by two people (Ms. Clarke and Mr. Preeble, respectively) who together create a fantastic and civilized journey through an ancient time that almost was.
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