September 23, 2005

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

Suppose England had had a glorious history of magic and magicians; suppose indeed that the North of England was ruled for 300 years by the mysterious Raven King, the first and greatest magician of England's golden age of magic. Suppose that paths to the land of Faerie had once been commonplace throughout the English countryside.

Suppose that magic is now sadly faded, and though studied by a few, is in actuality practiced by no one; that Napoleon is ravaging the Continent and that only England stands against him; that the glories of English Magic are suddenly, miraculously, about to be reborn...

...and that Jane Austen wrote a book about it all.

That, in a nutshell, is Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

The book was published to great acclaim; indeed, it won the 2005 Hugo award, which is no small potatoes. It was an interesting read, and was, indeed, novel in its subject matter and presentation; Clarke has done the remarkable job of creating an alternate history for England that feels plausible. I enjoyed the book, more or less.

But I fear I didn't love it. The narration maintains an air of detachment; and one loves none of the characters, and rather cordially dislikes several of them. Momentous events occur (at one point an entire city--Brussels, if I recall correctly--is transplanted to the Great Plains of North America for a short while), but they are described matter-of-factly, and with no fanfare.

I'm not sorry I read it; and I'm curious to see what Clarke might come up with next. But I'm not entirely sure why it got the Hugo.

Posted by Will Duquette at September 23, 2005 08:22 PM