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Why is there no longer magic in England? January 6, 2007

Posted by whatacharacter in just my blogs.


This is the question posed at the beginning of this incredible novel, by Susanna Clarke – her first! It took me 2 months to chew thoroughly through the 800 pages of this delectable full course meal of literary delight and fancy, but strangely it seemed not long enough. I was completely full, yet was prepared to consume more (Thankfully her new edition of short stories “The Ladies of Grace Adieu,” has recently been published!).

Written in a high prose style, JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL deftly weaves a tapestry of historical fantasy, where England faces a warring Napoleon, and the loss of it’s magical heritage – in slow decline since the centuries long Dark-age reign of the King of all Northern England, John Uskglass , The Raven King. Much of this back story / substitute history is offered by means of wonderful little footnotes, which rarely ever detract from the pace of the story.

Rather than “practical” magicians, all that is left in Georgian Great Britain are the bookish genteelmen – the “theoretical” magicians – who study the history books and mourn the loss of real magick in England. They calmly wonder about the Otherlands of Faerie, but it would be ungentlemanly to consider practicing any magic, or summoning an actual fairy (let alone an angel or demon). This last aspect is also cautiously prudent, for of all the classes of earthly beings, while men have much reason and little magic, the fairies are the opposite. Given the amount of magic they do possess, combined with near insanity, an out of control fairy could mean trouble … if they actually exist. Finally, the first two practical magicians in centuries arrive on the scene, in the form of our main characters.

There have been many wonderful reviews of this book, but I would have to add an element not much discussed. The author gives amazing voice to all her wonderful characters. Besides the lavish descriptions, and characters and settings, when dialogue occurs, she knows her actors parts, and they always nail their lines! Well played, madame!

No doubt the author should be questioned for her own fairy magick !

Full of grounded insight into class society, combined with witty dialogue and a progressive forays into the fantastic, this novel comes highly recommended for any reader into good writing, history, fantasy, or tendencies toward anglophilia! Even Neil Gaiman calls it “unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years.” 70 YEARS!?! Sorry J.R.R., but you’re still tops on my list.

Rush to your book sellers today!



1. alistair - January 9, 2007

with the advent of the industrial revolution magick was pretty much dead. who needs a spell when you have a steam engine?

this sort of thinking has been prevalent ever since.

magick is a tribal function. the modern, literate, rational mind cannot fathom such things and so relies on technology.

so the esoteric lays dormant until the end of this age but for the few who understand even a glimmer of it all.

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