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Confessions of a Bibliophile

An aspiring writer and bookstore employee with an incredibly bad book-buying habit... I'll read just about anything (so long as it will appeal to my interests in some way), but my main loves are YA and sci-fi/fantasy. I also like quirky history and science books and will book nerd. A lot. Currently in the process of weeding out my personal library. Find me on Twitter @princess_starr or check out my YA book, Snowfall, on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240027
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke I think I can rightfully say that this a book that fantasy fans should read at least once (and YMMV on how you actually like it, but still give it a fair chance), if only because it really shows the shape of modern fantasy.First, the Regency England setting works so well in the context of the novel. Historically, there’s a lot of emphasis on writing and gentlemanly pursuit of studies and reading, so the idea that there are non-practicing magicians. (Not to mention, the fact that the population of Northern England still consider themselves the subjects of the Raven King.) The setting works well with the plot, starting with the very opening question of “Why is no more magic done in England?” and reaching across the whole of Western Europe. Also, Clarke’s writing style fits in with the literature and writings of the time. The common description of this that I’ve heard is “What would happen if Jane Austen wrote a fantasy novel,” and while I think that description is pretty weak (in regards to both authors), it is spot-on describing Clarke’s prose style. She manages to be witty, engaging and downright creepy, sometimes at the same time. The heart of Jonathan Strange is a grand epic tragedy, accidently set in motion by the characters. I don’t there’s one character who doesn’t lose something in the course of the plot. (Well, maybe Stephen Black, but the way his story progresses is definitely tragic.) Both Norrell and Strange are defined by their hubris as magicians, and the way the plot takes their journey allows for their ultimate downfall.Norrell’s probably my least favorite character. I can sympathize with him, but I spend too much of the book disliking his character. There’s not much that we really see from his perspective—I wanted to see more of his growing horror about what he’s exactly done to Lady Pole, I wanted to see more of the reasons why he so despises the Raven King. It’s obvious to see why Norrell’s hubris destroys his dreams and goals in the end—particularly his whole “I’m the best magician in England, so no one else can call themselves magicians” schtick. It makes sense why Clarke decides to start with him, but sometimes Norrell’s dry way of speaking just drags the book’s pacing just so slightly. Unsurprisingly, I like Strange a lot better. I still think he has his moments of failing, such as his descent in madness and some of his actions during the war in Portugal, but he’s a much more engaging character. Of the two, Strange’s storyline best reflects the epic tragedy of the book, given everything that he gains and then loses. It is interesting how we’re first introduced to him—sitting in a chair and staring intensely at his future manservant—but it serves as a jarring comparison to when we see him next and an interesting bit of foreshadowing for his actions near the end of the book.One place where Clarke shines is her plotting in regards to her characters—there is not one minor character who doesn’t have a larger role to play in the plot. Even characters like Mr. Segundus and Mr. Honeyfoot, who disappear for hundreds of pages (I don’t think Honeyfoot shows up again until the very end of the book), manage to play a bigger role than one might expect. Hell, Drawlight manages to play a huge role in the plot and he’s first presented a conniving fop. It’s still interesting to see where the characters are going to go and what they’re exactly going to do in the larger plot of the book. Some of the plotting does get a tiny bit predictable, but Clarke manages to put in several red herrings that the obvious answer doesn’t feel like obvious at first.The alternate universe in the book is also one of my favorite things. I love the idea that magic isn’t a thing forgotten in the minds of the public; it’s still a very real thing that just doesn’t happen anymore. There’s constant reference the boundaries of Faerie that still exist in this world, not to mention the various books of magic and magical history that the characters and the narrator continuously refer to. (And the fact that this is a whole universe unto itself, I’ll get into that more with The Ladies of Grace Adieu.) If I had one tiny, little baby of a nitpick about the book, it’s her use of footnotes to further expand on this universe. I don’t mind the referential ones in regards to specific texts or historical characters peppered throughout the book, but a lot of the asides regarding various pieces of folklore or letters tend to overshadow the text. I don’t think these footnotes are bad—they’re actually quite fascinating—but it’s a little annoying that I have to stop in the middle of the text I’m reading and read a two to three page footnote on something that’s barely mentioned or abandoned in text. (If these were presented as endnotes, I don’t think it would be such a huge problem for me, but like I said, teeny little nitpick.) This is a grand fantasy epic in the truest sense of the word, and it shines. I’m not kidding that I think every fantasy fan should read this book; actually, I’d like to amend that to everyone should at least try to read this book. Yes, the size is daunting and it’s slow to start. But the way Clarke writes just draws you in and you just want to learn more about this world that she’s created. And once the pace does pick up, you just don’t want to put it down; you have to keep going to find out what’s going to happen next. Absolutely fantastic read.