by Susanna Clarke
Reviewed by Adam, added on Feb 19 2005
Picture an England, circa 1807, where magic once flourished. Now, however, magic is only studied, rather than practiced. It is the general opinion of the magicians of England that magic has left the world. The magicians are proven wrong by one Mr. Norrell, a magician capable of practicing the most miraculous of spells. Norrell is regarded as the savior of English magic, and asked to begin a school dedicated to the training of magicians. Norrell's first possible student - the roguishly charming Jonathan Strange - proves to be Norrell's equal, and then some. Unfortunately, Strange's obsession with the founder of English magic, the Raven King, leads him down a dark and possibly destructive path. Strange risks losing his partnership with Norrell, as well as everything he holds dear in the world.
Many of referred to Ms. Clarke's debut novel as a "Harry Potter for adults." This is somewhat true; but for the most part, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell has more in common with the works of Charles Dickens than J. K. Rowling. Clarke, like Mr. Dickens, has a love for characters, and for dialogue. This certainly isn't a bad thing; no, in fact, it is quite a treat. The conversations of the stuffy, self-absorbed scholars of the Yorkshire magician's society are ripe with dry, haughty wit; the interaction between Strange and Norrell is full of contrasting energy, power, and conflict; hell, there isn't much about the dialogue one couldn't like.
I should probably mention that the story is more about the characters, rather than magic. Those looking for a story full of the kind of magical adventure found in most fantasy novels will be slightly mistaken. I say "slightly," because there are plenty of great scenes of powerful, wonderful magic. One in particular: Mr. Norrell demonstrates his power to the scholars of Yorkshire by empowering the stones of the Yorkshire Cathedral to come to life. There's plenty more; but ultimately, the characters are the more important - and more compelling - aspect of the plot.
Adults fans of the "Harry Potter" series would do well to look into Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Fantasy fans in general will definitely have a good time. All one must do to enjoy this lovely novel is sit down, open the book, and read. Sure, it is quite dry in the beginning; but I assure you all, if you make it past the first few chapters, you'll be in love. Let us hope that Susanna Clarke has more magic up her sleeve.