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)
The only problem with this book is that it was much too short, even at 32 hours. It is an awesome achievement on the part of both author and narrator. I don't think I have ever experienced such a credible alternate world, full of totally believable characters involved in such a fascinating and gripping and wonderfully-woven story. This is compounded by Susanna Clarke's outstanding writing -- the quality of her English puts many other modern authors to shame.
There are few other works of modern literature you could compare it to -- Neil Gaiman's American Gods, perhaps, which it certainly equals and possibly exceeds, and Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast saga. Comparisons with Harry Potter are unfair, however -- Susanna Clarke is as far in advance of J.K. Rowling as Dickens and Balzac are of Enid Blyton.
This first novel immediately puts Clarke in the same literary level as Dickens, Austen, the Bronte sisters and others. She is at least their equals and has other qualities, qualities of world-creation and vision, that they did not have.
Simon Prebble's narration is worthy of Clarke's wonderful book. Every character is perfectly deliniated, coming to life with the first couple of words they speak. It was a joy to listen to and contributed to the feeling that the book was much too short. I would have loved to have gone on living in this fascinating world.
Five stars is not enough for this book. I wish I could have awarded eight or ten. An instant masterpiece, a classic, a jewel.
I cannot begin to praise this book highly enough. It was wonderful in so many ways.
The book has an interesting structure. The main protagonist doesn't put in an appearance for the first few chapters. A fantasy tale about the 'restoration' of English magic, it is set during the time of the Napoleonic wars, in the early part of the 19th Century.
The characters are just so rich. You love them, hate them, are confused by them, but ultimately, there is charmingly absurd quality to all of them that really does answer to why this book is not your run of the mill fantasy novel. It's a very literate piece of fiction.
I have to say something about the writer's use of language. It's just spectacular. This book has a neverending stream of sentences that are delicious on the ear. Clarke's use of metaphor is fresh and breathtaking.
Finally, the narration is absolutely perfection.
This is a book for people who like to dwell in language. It is descriptive and the choice of language and phrasing matches perfectly the period of the setting: the early 1800s. It reflects, too, the types and class of people who it describes. The story is compelling, gently unfolding, drawing the listener into the world, both through the description of events, and the weaving in of magical "theoretical" texts which anchor the story into its bigger mythology of lost English magical traditions.
This is a long audio book and not suited to people who want to be swept along by a fast-paced narrative. If you are the kind of person who claimed that Tolkien's Lord of The Rings was too long or tedious, then you should avoid this book. For those who like deeply formed characters and a narrative that builds momentum steadily then this is a wonderful choice (& extremely well performed in this audio version).
I have heard this book described as 'Harry Potter' for adults, but I think it is better to say 'His Dark Materials' for adults, if that makes sense.
The book is long (!) and involved, and not all of the sub-plots/side stories are relevant but they do immmerse you in this alternate history.
That is exactly what the flavour of this book is: historical fiction. It feels like it was put together from eyewitness accounts and this is what made me enjoy it even more - it feels so real!
Yes, the book is long, but I would recommend you stick with it and stifle the urge to fast forward - it is a rewarding read and one that you will probably want to hear again (one day!).
The end, however, was slightly disappointing and felt rushed, to me, and as if the author had just run out of steam.
The narrator does an EXCELLENT job with the reading, and the voices are superb - Norrell sounds pedantic and persnickety, Vinculus sounds common, dirty and supercillious, and Arabella strange is loving, supportive and the rock on which her husband relies. The gentleman with the thistle-down hair sounds downright creepy on the whole, and there is never a time when you are left wondering who is speaking because the changes in tone and inflection are so good.
I've given this book 4 rather than 5 stars because I find it to be slightly lacking in the story/plot department. However I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys superb writing and a dry, witty, arrogant, sense of humour. If you like your fantasy in the good-versus-evil, prince defeats dragon and carries off damsel in distress with the aid of naughty but charming fairy style, then stay away from this one. But if you can handle a cast of slightly vile, beautifully flawed and unapologetically selfish characters scheming their way through the prim and devious world of the English Gentleman, and if you can imagine the entertainment value of magic put to "proper" use, then you will definitely get your money's worth from this title.
I've been tempted to buy this book a number of times but was put off a little by the size of it in paperback. I'm not sorry that I waited to find it as an audiobook. As an audiobook it runs for about 32 hours and those are 32 hours I enjoyed immensely. You will enjoy this book if you like Dickens, Jane Austen and things that are funny and quirky. I laughed a lot while I listened to this. Simon Prebble is a superb narrator, I particularly like the way he interprets the fairies' voices.
This is one of my favourite books of all time, so when I saw it in Audiobook format, I HAD to buy it. And I wasn't disappointed either. The narrator was excellent. I couldn't fault it (though perhaps my love for the story itself makes me somewhat biased).
The story is long and with much of the background information presented as 'footnotes', it might become somewhat tedious to keep going back to for those of you who prefer quicker paced books with plenty of action in them. This is a fictionalised account of a time when magic was non-fiction, with the story examining and reviewing magical theory and practice to great depth. Like Tolkien's masterpiece, JS&Mr.N is a history of England's fictional past, but is so vibrant that it might be almost believable...
It is difficult to write anything about Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell that has not already been written, but Simon Prebble's reading takes this already superb modern fantasy and provides it with a tone and dramatic quality that makes a print copy almost redundant.
I listened to this book on my phone, my iPAQ or my iPOD, whenever and where ever I could get the time.
What has happened to English magic? This is the question at the Society of York Magicians, a club of theoretical magicians who are no more than the intellectual and curious, for real magic has left the world, or perhaps it is practical understanding that has gone. Once fairy walked the world of man and visa-versa. Once magicians influenced the course of events, but no more. Enter Gilbert Norrell, a strange, arrogant and reclusive man who claims to be a real magician. “My intention”, declares Norrell “is to return magic to England”. The skeptical gentlemen of the Society challenge him to prove his claims and prove himself he does. Norrell is a rational and highly learned magician (although as we latter learn also gullible and easily influenced) who aims to re-establish magic under his rules. Meanwhile in the countryside Jonathan Strange, an unfocused man of privilege discovers by accident that he is a natural and intuitive magician, and in doing so finds purpose. When Norrell and Strange meet there are mixed emotions for in each other they find a peer but for Norrell there is an element of professional jealousy and a desire to shape and control Strange for his own purpose. Strange, on the other hand, is a man who is learning to trust his instincts. He chaffs under Norrell’s tutelage and his hidebound and insular ways. As the instinctual and rational circle each other debating the future course of magic, here enters the Fairy King of Lost Hope let loose into the world through Norrell’s ambition, and at last the story fair roars into life. This is a meandering and energetic tale set in a fully realized parallel world, wonderfully produced and narrated.
(While this novel is classified as Fantasy it is important to note that the magical and fairy elements are more of the Shakespearian variety than of the Tolkein).
It took me a few hours to get into this magnificent book, but it was well worth it. I "read" my audiobooks through my 2 hour comute to work, and while "reading" this book I found myself considering returning home to be able to do the drive one more time.
The whole concept of magic as a matter of fact is SO well done. The atmosphere of England (and Italy) in the olden days is authentic to a degree where you can smell the smells.
What a tale - and so well written...
Just like a previous reviewer, I have resisted reading this book for a while now, though mainly due to lack of time. So when I saw that it was available on Audible, I jumped at the chance.
I truly can not fault this audiobook. The author's incredible talent for recreating the atmosphere of Georgian London is impressive, all the more as the story is woven with such loving attention to detail that even someone with some scholarly knowledge in English and Metropolitan history is soon enticed to suspend disbelief and 'enjoy the ride'.
The story itself is deeply compelling, containing all the essential elements of a good fantasy novel without any of the pitfalls and clich?s that genre is often plagued by.
Without giving too much away, the arduous re-discovery of the long lost knowledge of English magic, once the foundation of the North of England under the fabled Raven King, two feuding magicians, Faeries, madness and love that refuses to lose hope, combined with a first-class narrator who understands how to bring the individual characters to life with real passion, make this one of the most enjoyable audiobooks I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. And its length (4 parts of around 8 hours each) ensure that the pleasure lasts for some time.
"I am longing for more as predicted! Superb !!"
When I downloaded Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell I was a little concerned at how I was going to manage with a book over 30 hours long. I need not have worried - this is an audio joy!
I was gripped from the first chapter and was totally engrossed until the last word. I normally listen to audiobooks at bedtime but I needed more so I took to listening in the car, during my lunch break, in fact anytime possible. I have really enjoyed this book and to be honest feel rather sad that I have finally reached the end. I had to stop the car for the last 15 minutes!
Simon Prebble's narration is wonderful, giving clear and diverse characters just the right voice and tone. Not once during the 32 hours did I wonder who was speaking and when a character returned I was calling out their name in glee. Simon's stamina must be admired as there is not a single change in pace, quality or crispness which is no mean feat for a book of this length.
The story is charming, witty, dark, scary, joyful and full of suspense. Every emotion is played out and I found myself laughing, exclaiming in shock (turned heads in the office), shouting at the characters not to do this or do that and even crying. Woven into the completely mesmerising plot of The Revival of English Magic, history, magic and faeries blend into the most pleasing and believable tale. Superb!
"Stick with it"
This book is a difficult one to review. Let me say, first of all, that I ended up loving it, but it is definitely an acquired taste, and not an easy listen. People have mentioned how long this novel is, to get to the end of it you'll need stamina, as at times it is extremely longwinded and feels very dry (atleast the way the reader relates it) I can understand why some have given up on it in other reviews here, yet on its plus side it has some of the most stunning imagery I've ever encountered.
Susanna Clarke has undeniably a brilliant imagination, some scenarios she described will be stuck in my head for many years to come.
In summation, don't expect to enjoy this book at all times, it can only be accessed as a whole. If you finish it to the end, you'll see why.
"Harry Potter for Grown Ups"
Beautifully written tale of magic and Faries, but not as we know it. Throw in lots of history and characters that jumped from the page. I was enchanted and surprised by this novel, I did not want it to end.
Lose yourself in this one.
"An excellent choice"
This is a brilliant listen! Superb delivery by our narrator; a wonderful plot; extraordinary characterisation; exquisite use of language; seamless melding of the fantastical with the ordinary; a knowing wit; a dark underbelly; an original slant on the magical world in a believable context and a very satisfying length of a novel that keeps the reader riveted. A master-work of arcane fiction.
"My first purchase"
This was my first purchase Audible went live in the UK. I had resisted the book for months but when I heard the audio sample I was hooked. Jane Austen meets Harry Potter. The book is sheer bliss. The quality of the recording superb the narrators voice just perfect. I really cannot praise this enough! Buy it and listen!
"Good story, over long in places"
it's a good story, of the rivalry between two magicians, but at times it seems over-long and i found myself not concentrating on the story. Well read though. Would recommend if you have a lot of time and / or patience.
"Definitely worth a credit!"
I would highly recommend this book- it is certainly good value for a single credit!
The book is based around a superb idea, and is wonderfully written. While the plot does not move very quickly, I was kept engrossed by the large number of wonderful mini-stories that are woven into the text. There is a nice twist at the end too...
The narration is absolutely superb. The narrator has a great voice for this kind of book that I could happlily listen to for hours, and he captures well the kindly ironic nature of the text.
"to my surprise, it was wonderful!"
This is one of the best audiobooks I have listened to. Normally I have never enjoyed books about magicians or any kind of fantasy - they just leave me cold - but from the very beginning of this book I was completely hooked. The slow but insistent rhythm of the story, the dense plotlines and period detail, and the sense that the events described were utterly feasible, combine with the artistry of the narration to make this a thoroughly absorbing and satisfying listen. Definitely 5 stars!
"An entrancing novel."
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, can truly be called a magical book. Set in the early years of the 19th century, it combines historical fact with the fantasy of a parallel history of English Magic - the main theme of the novel. She has created a world that rings true throughout; it has its own, seamless integrity. The alternate reality and it's history, the characters, the language, the magic etc. are brilliantly described and so enjoyably believable.
I was a little concerned at the beginning because the pace was slow but as the first characters introduced were Yorkshire magicians who held a respectable place in society, it seemed likely that things would get interesting - and they did. There are so many threads in this story and the author works them together so skilfully that the reader (listener) is drawn into a richly imaginative adventure peopled with well-rounded characters and many intriguing plot-lines.
The resolution is as clever, intelligent and fascinating as the adventure; Susanna Clarke doesn't put a foot wrong and after 32 hours (surely, the bargain of the year) I was sorry it had ended and I hope there will be a sequel.
The narrator, Simon Prebble, is also magnificent; the perfect choice for this great novel.
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