Susanna Clarke spent over a decade writing her debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. She could have spent twice as long and not a moment of her time would have been wasted, nor could she have achieved anything more splendid and unique. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a fantastic novel, and one of the finest works of fantasy ever written.

Neil Gaiman, British author of many fine fantasies, wrote of the novel:

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years.

Indeed, it is my personal opinion that no other fantasy has reached quite the same literary heights as Clarke’s Jonathan Strange. It is a dark, rich tale of an England infused with a mystery and magic that is at once terrifying and beautiful. Clarke’s characters are complicated and their motives are often all too human. Where many of Clarke’s contemporaries fail, in their often black and white portrayal of the forces of good and evil, Clarke’s tale is a resounding victory.

This is not an easy book. It challenges you at every turn. Early notions about one character or another will most certainly be in question as you delve further into the story.

But what truly makes this book a startling read is the quality of its mystery. One begins the narrative knowing very little, and as it presses on one finds themselves knowing even less. Every new revelation brings about a new series of questions. The mystery extends beyond the reader, however. Each character is a mystery to all the others.

Set during the Napoleonic Wars, Jonathan Strange unravels around such historical figures as the Duke of Wellington and Mad King George. But it is the characters of Jonathan Strange (the apprentice), Mr. Norrell (the hoarder of books) Stephen Black (the Butler), and the Man with the Thistle Down Hair (a faerie) that make this book so utterly absorbing. The mix of Victorian intrigue and dark fantasy make Jonathan Strange easily the most unique fantasy I have ever had the pleasure to read.

Now Susanna Clarke has published a new book of short stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu which lets us hungry readers revisit the magical England of the Raven King and his Faerie host.

The only regret any of you may have upon reading this masterpiece is that no other fantasy will ever feel the same afterward. Truly, for the fantasy lover, Jonathan Strange is a life-changing book. But I think that’s a good thing.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell can be purchased at Amazon.

So can The Ladies of Grace Adieu.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

  • by Susanna Clarke
  • 800 pages
  • Bloomsbury USA (September 8, 2004)
  • ISBN-10: 1582344167
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