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 32 hours leave readers longing for more.
©2004 Susanna Clarke; (P)2004 Audio Renaissance, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC, and Bloomsbury Publishing
"A smashing success....An exceptionally compelling, brilliantly creative, and historically fine-tuned piece of work." (Booklist)
"Extraordinary....Immersion in the mesmerizing story reveals its intimacy, humor, and insight, and will enchant readers of fantasy and literary fiction alike." (Publishers Weekly)
"Ravishing...superb...combines the dark mythology of fantasy with the delicious social comedy of Jane Austen into a masterpiece of the genre that rivals Tolkien." (Time)
"Clarke welcomes herself into an exalted company of British writers - not only, some might argue, Dickens and Austen, but also the fantasy legends Kenneth Grahame and George MacDonald - as well as contemporary writers like Susan Cooper and Philip Pullman." (The New York Times Book Review)
I grew up on Golden Age Radio, and while I love to read, I typically consume more books via audio thanks to a job that lets me listen while I work. As an aspiring writer, I try to read a great deal of non-fiction in addition to a variety of fictional genres. I especially love history, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and old-style gothic horror.
For most people, this one's either really good or really bad. I found myself right in the middle. It's well-written, imaginative, and brilliant in its scope and depth, but I found it moved far too slow for me. Ultimately it's the old-world charm that kept me with it, and I'm glad I made it to the end, as the story starts truly building about 8 hours or so into it. I suspect this is one that, should I revisit it, I'll get even more out of it.
SImon Prebble brings his ever-present A game, and he is a more than comfortable choice for narrator.
The book itself is incredible, and the person who reads it is one of the best I've ever heard. Together it is easily the best audio book I've ever listened to. If you're a fan of any magical realm from any writer's imagination, you're going to love this book. And if you're new to this genre, this book may well ruin you for other lesser works.
Literature majors have to read a huge cross section of writing. Hopefully, at one time or another, they will learn that there are books out there that have every reason to be great works, but they just don't like them.
JS&MN is like that for me. I listened to the book twice, to give it a fair listening. When I was done my conclusion was that some books were, in fact, written to be read, not read aloud. The need to fall to foot notes or appendices for some given information would often break train of thought. This wouldn't happen while you were actually reading. Don't get me wrong, it does fit the genre and time period, it was just hard for me to sometimes stay in a slower section when some note came up about someone who is, perhaps, mentioned only in passing. Also the transition between one passage and the other isn't clear cut in a reading. For me, at the beginning, two of the characters, Black and Strange, get hard to separate.
Now, my whining aside, the book is an excellent choice. Ms. Clarke does a wonderful job at keeping faithful to the English arrogance of the era. You have to understand that it was just something that they expected, everything English was superior, from education to their society. Who wouldn't want to be English? But just when it is easy to become complacent, she sneaks a twist at the end that isn't shocking but unexpected.
If you are a listener who sits down to place your entire attention on a book, I cannot suggest JS&MN more. If, like me, you find yourself doing other things while you listen, this book might be one of those you have to stop and back up, to listen to something you missed.
The reading was superior, and I've heard a few that were not so I know. His inflection and rhythm are what a listener expects in a novel about England at the time of Napoleon. The casual air of assumed superiority in every situation was fantastic. In the future I will look up books based on their being read by Mr. Prebble.
I'm trying to wean myself and learn to function without earbuds for more than ten minutes at a time. It hasn't been easy. I lose balance...
Adventure, magic, occultism, war, fairies, history and all done wihtout treating me like a moron like so many of the suddenly popular "adventure mystery" art history stories. This is a great story period. I'm hardly ever this happy about a purchase- color me a tough customer.This was so great I just bought the hardcover. But now what?!
Simon Prebble is fabulous with voices. I knew who was speaking when several people were in the room. The book is terrific and moved me emotionally, almost to tears, and I certainly laughed out loud as well. I enjoyed it years ago as text and returned to it with a new love for the narrated version. If you have a taste for British culture with magicians thrown in to this "historical" fiction, then this is the book for you.
Don't miss the Bino Phillips series by AW Gray. They are largely unknown, but as good as any ive read!
This is a book I read first before listening to it. I give it 5 stars because it is entirely original. It is a dark and brooding story of magic and the dread it brings to all who encounter it.
You will have no idea where the author is taking you, and that is how should be when people encounter magic.
This is Harry Potter for adults, but much, much better. This book was a labor of love for the author, taking 10 years to write. This really shows in the depth of the characterization and richness in the historical details, both real and imaginary. In JS&MN, Clarke created a parallel Regency England where the only difference to the real thing is the presence of magic. As I've always like fantasy novels with strong ties to reality (it makes the fantasy that much more palpable) I thoroughly enjoyed this conceit. It is rare that I feel like I learnt so much of history from a fantasy novel!
I can't emphasize enough that this book is not "Harry Potter for grownups." When searching the internet for reviews of this book, this was the most common description I got. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, aside from being concerned with English magic, has very little in common with the Harry Potter series. If you begin this book with the expectation of action-packed accounts of dueling wizards fighting to rid the world of an evil sorcerer, then you will be sorely disappointed. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is much closer to a Jane Austen or Charles Dickens novel than it is to any of J.K. Rowling's offerings.
That being said...this is one of the best books I've read in quite a while. It is a wonderful example of pastiche that uses the style it is imitating to great humorous effect without belittling it in any way. The characters, especially those of Strange and Norrell, but the supporting cast as well, are well developed and fully realized. I especially enjoyed those aspects of the story that play on the comedy of manners genre and found them particulary humourous, though it is a very British brand of humor.
On the whole, I suppose the book would be best described as an alternate history. Much of it takes place among the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars and there are scenes involving King George III in the grips of madness. Strange, after an apprenticeship under Norrell, becomes the official magician to the Duke of Wellington and plays an integral role in his triumph in the Peninsular War and, later, at Waterloo.
After returning to England, Strange and Norrell's relationship dissolves and each of them sets himself on a path to destroy the other. This continuing battle is exacerbated by the actions of a devilish character acting on the fringes of their world and who may, or may not, be human.
However one wishes to describe it though, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was the winner of the 2005 Hugo Award and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
This was a delightful book to listen to, especially since the narrator Simon Prebble made the English characters really come alive. Many reviews have described this book as an adult version of Harry Potter and I guess in some ways it is like that series but I haven't read those books only seen the movies. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell had many unique characters and neat twists and turns. The use of footnotes to move the story along was especially unique. At many times I found myself wanting to reach out and shake sense into the characters so that they might discover the 'right path' or catch the meaning of someone speaking to them. At other times I found myself desiring to become a magician like that was at all possible. For me, one of the signs of a good author is if they can draw you into their story with an elaborate plot, descriptions, and metaphors, and Susanna Clarke definitely does that. Of course like any novel the twists and turns don't always go to your liking and the author seems to have left the door open for follow on editions. Though there are twists in the story I would change, if I had only half the talent of Ms. Clarke I would be writing this masterful novel not reading it.
Oh, what a wild world Clarke creates. While I believe this book could have been shortened by half (too many details, superfluous characters, and tangents), the end product is well worth the time. The end 1/4 of the book makes the rest worthwhile.
I liked the footnotes, even in the audio version. Those were some of my favorite parts.
I did find that in the first 3/4 of the book my mind could wander, and when I came back, I hadn't lost the plot. It wasn't because the narrator isn't good. He's excellent.
I was glad I stuck with it. The ending is definitely worth it.
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