Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel

December 17, 2008
By Sun-Ui Yum, Cambridge, MA

The back of this thick red paperback states clearly, in plain English, that the book before me is a fantasy story. A genre that I pretty much worship. But after the first couple pages, which were not fit to grace my trash can, I was about to literally put it in my closet for a couple years. I was sure I would get to reading it. Eventually. Fantasy? This book? If this book is a fantasy book, I was thinking, I'm the emperor of Neptune. Somehow, luckily for Susanna Clarke, the author, I decided I would read a little further, because my dad strongly recommended it. Now, looking back, I'm really happy I did such a thing. After the first few dreary pages my eyes were scanning the pages as fast as I could turn them. This book, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel, is a true classic. Admittedly, it has a couple mistakes, but the action, suspense, and overall interesting plot is an amazing combination, weaving a world around me as I read.

My book, the subject of this review, is one that both I admire and disapprove simultaneously. The writing style itself is the one quality that I would never approve of. It imitates the writing of the era it tells of (the early 1800's), aggravating me, the reader, to no end. Although I know that the way she writes and spells certain words would be correct in the 1800's, it really annoys anyone from the 2000's. Instead of “surprise” you see before you “surprize”, instead of “choose” you read “chuse”. I'm sorry, Ms. Clarke, but just because of this I almost stopped reading. And then, if that isn't annoying enough, the author decides to put in pointless (or occasionally relevant) footnotes every couple pages! However, once you get past these minor faults, this book is amazing.

The plot is fantastic, drawing you in as if the book was a fishing rod and you were a fish. The book begins at a meeting of the York Society of Magicians in Britain, where they discuss a man named Mr Norrel, who claims to be a practical magician, a kind of magician that no one has seen for generations. The two make a bet-if Norrel can truly perform magic, all but one of the magicians must give up their profession of magician. The society accepts, and Norrel wins. Then, after a couple years of fame, and after Norrel makes friends with many important men like Sir Walter Scott, enter Jonathan Strange. He is told that he is a magician by another that was chased out by Norrel, the street magician Vinculus. He is taken under Norrel's wing as a pupil. Then, a genie that had been thwarted by Norrel when he brought Sir Walter's wife back to life, decides to take revenge, and forces a falling-out between the two greatest magicians in Britain, Strange and Norrel. Along with an oblivious black slave named Stephen Black, the genie decides to wreak havoc on Great Britain. And combined with the two magicians' dabbling in the dark magic of the Raven King, John Uskglass, Great Britain is in for a ride…

The characters, including Mr Norrel, Jonathan Strange, Childermass (Norrel's servant) and many others are very interesting people. All of them have a dark side that may or may not be touched upon by the author, and each of them have their own secret desires. All of those things just help to make them seem more realistic. However, there is something that I do not like. The author, whether on purpose or by accident, hardly talks about the characters. The characters are always shrouded in a certain amount of darkness, sometimes confusing the reader. So when a character turns bad, or someone does something that belies my original portrayal of the character, I'm confused and I have no explanation. Along with this and the writing style, this book can often be frustrating.

I had a very strange experience reading this book. I'm not denying the fact that this is a fantastic book, or the fact that it is very captivating. However, this isn't one of those books that you can sit down and read in one sitting. The book can just be too frustrating. This is more of a book that you read in the course of a month, picking it up and reading for twenty minutes at a time. It's just too long! The length, which is around 1000 pages, is more than the length of the first two Harry Potter books combined! The book can be tedious, more like a biography of the two main characters than a story. It's like a wave, boring at the start, than soaring up into the air for nail-biting suspense. This book is a rollercoaster, don't worry. And don't be put off by my description. This is a book for people of all ages. And for those that are still not convinced, read the next paragraph.

But the one thing that you get from big books like these is a huge climax. In normal books, they last twenty, maybe thirty pages. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel? No more than around, say, 100 pages! And all of it is nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat action. Exactly the opposite of what you would expect happens, the good guys turn bad, bad guys turn good. Everything is turned topsy-turvy. I would recommend this book to anyone from eleven to one hundred eleven. However, if you decide that you don't have the patience to read a book with a thousand pages, I don't recommend it. So, I took the liberty of making a table.

Pros and Cons


Long climax

The first half of the book is

Good characters

Good plot

1000 PAGES! That's a lot!
Surprising developments
Too distracting with all the footnotes

I rate this book 8.5 out of 10 shelves of books. I'm serious, this is worth the money/effort it takes to get a copy.

All in all, if you are looking for a book that is good for a long read, with suspense, action and amazing plot, this is your book. This red, thick, plain paperback is more than it seems. It holds a lot more in between the covers than you would expect, at least, what I expected. I think that it would have been a horrible decision to place this book in my closet. Imagine the excitement I would have lost! The past month was filled with constant reading. All of these characters have helped me to realize how much of a jerk or how overconfident I can be. These characters are very, very real. And after all of this, this book was fantasy. Maybe I am the emperor of Neptune. Who knew?

The author's comments:
I hope that although this book was written in England, you readers will actually read this book (please).

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This article has 2 comments.

Shinywix said...
on Jan. 18 2009 at 4:21 pm
It is an articulate review of the marvelous fantasy book from a young but surprisingly mature voice. Two thumbs up!

Two thumbs up! Two thumbs up! Two thumbs up!

1,9375894738494 thumbs up

serene said...
on Dec. 21 2008 at 12:47 am
It is an articulate review of the marvelous fantasy book from a young but surprisingly mature voice. Two thumbs up!

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