Review/Discussion of “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.” And 7 facts about me.

What’s news?

Kate Evangelista from Kate’s Blog put The Imaginings out to her readers for review, and I wanted to take this moment to thank her.  If anyone else would be interested in reviewing The Imaginings for their blog, I would gladly provide you a coupon to pick it up at Smashwords for free.  Just let me know.

What does the future hold?

Next Friday, I’ll be posting part one of another two part serial entitled The Terrible Old Mr. Roogs.  I think you’ll enjoy it.  As the holidays are upon us, I’ll be giving you my take on a traditional ghost story.

But without further ado…

As I mentioned last week, as a part of being awarded the Versatile Blogger Award (thanks again to Blaze McRob), I am supposed to list 7 facts about myself as well as nominate someone else.  I’ll get to the former shortly, but for the latter, I’m passing this award to Jonathan D. Allen at Shaggin’ the Muse.  His blog is worth checking out, and if you haven’t read the interview I did with him, click here.

7 facts about me.

1- Even though I don’t often admit it (even sometimes to myself), I am pretty superstitious.  For example, I won’t walk under ladders.  Of course, having worked construction for many years, that’s just good sense.

Don't judge me.

2- I’ve developed something of a man-crush on Tom Jones.  I blame my wife who introduced me to his music.

3- Otherwise, I have pretty eclectic music tastes.  They range from Waylon Jennings to Ministry (and just about anything in between).

4- While we’re on music, I’ll say that I’m a sucker for karaoke.  I actually have a back burner writing project that deals with karaoke.  It’s a travelogue entitled A Man Without a Band.

5- Much of the Hawaii segment of my first novel, The Imaginings, is based on fact.  I have indeed worked for a guy who was an arms dealer.  In addition to working on his house, I was also “night security” for him.  He gave me a lead pipe to protect myself “because it would look more like self defense than a gun.”

6- Speaking of Hawaii, I’ve skydived (skydove?) twice.  I want to do it one more time, preferably in Hawaii.

7- While I love horror movies, I hate haunted houses.  Maybe the fact that some of them keep you in there for as long as 45 minutes has to do with it.  Being tense for 45 minutes straight isn’t my idea of a good time.  Plus, it’s like being part of a horror movie.  At least in a theatre, you are safe in your seat.

So there are my seven facts.  And now…

Review/Discussion of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

From Amazon:

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England‘s history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England–until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.

Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.

Let me start by saying that I don’t normally read in the fantasy/sci-fi genre, but this one came highly recommended to me by a friend, so I gave it a chance.  It almost didn’t get finished.  At over 850 pages of smaller than usual print (and given my limited reading time), I was a little leery of committing that much time.

I was also nervous when I saw the style compared with Jane Austen.  I’ve never been a huge fan of that style of writing.  The characters often seem more like caricatures, either flat or over exaggerated.  And this was the sense I got at the beginning of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but I decided I would give it 100 pages before I gave up on it.

Previous to the 100 pages, while I didn’t find myself caring that much about the characters, there were just enough interesting moments to keep me going (such as Norrell essentially banning all other magicians from ever doing magic again… or more specifically how he pulled that feat off).

However, I was hooked at probably page 96.  Just in time.  There was an act of just enough darkness to string me along past page 100, and the more I read, the more I enjoyed the story.  There were still many moments where the character interactions bounced back to the superficial, but soon they started to fill out and seem like real people.

I also enjoyed the historical aspect, especially the idea that magic played a part in the Napoleonic Wars (and I really enjoyed the individual acts of magic used) and the idea that this was a time when magic was accepted as reality (I believe this would fall under “speculative fiction”?).

I even liked most of the numerous footnotes (although some tended to go on a little long.  I’ve always been a fan of footnotes, often inserting them into my nonfiction).  They added an element of “fantastic truth” to this world of men interacting with magic and the fairy realm (the latter of which was different than anything I’ve seen, although again, this isn’t my normal genre).  The mythology surrounding the mysterious Raven King, a child taken by fairies who went on to become a king of both England and Faerie, was well-crafted.

I only had two gripes (besides the writing style/characterization in the beginning), which aren’t that major.  The first one was that it seemed like Clarke wasn’t sure what type of story she wanted it to be once it really got going.  There were several points where the story took very dark turns, and I would get excited and think it was a changing point, but then she would go back to the farcical.  Some scenes were downright graphic (some I would even go so far as to describe as disturbing), and while I enjoyed them, they didn’t seem to fit with the flavor of the rest of the book.  I found myself wanting more of that type of story .  I understand that ultimately this is her story and she can write it however she wants, but there was an accompanying unsettling feeling brought about by the shifts in tone.

SPOILER ALERT FOR MY SECOND GRIPE

My other gripe was the fact that the Raven King never plays a significant part in the action of the story (beside in the development of the story).  As I mentioned, the author goes to great lengths to create a mythology around this character and at least this reader was led to believe that he was going to make an appearance in some major way in the story.  However, he only shows up for perhaps two pages towards the end (if I’m guessing correctly.  The aforementioned figure is never named).  Granted, what he does in those two pages is indeed important (and I know this isn’t his story), but it seems like all of the build-up should’ve had more pay-off.

IN CONCLUSION:

Well, I hope I’ve given you enough information to decide if you want to read it or not.  If you like historical fiction, matched with magic and fantasy, you’ll love it.  Personally, even though I’m not normally a fan or any of that, I’m still happy to say that I’m glad I read it.

What do I want from you?

– Have you read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell?  What were your thoughts?

– What’s a book that you read (and enjoyed) in a genre that you rarely read?

– Any comments on my 7 facts?

– Finally, don’t forget to check back next Friday for part one of The Terrible Old Mr. Roogs.

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18 thoughts on “Review/Discussion of “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.” And 7 facts about me.

  1. I am quite superstitious myself–you should’ve seen me when I accidentally broke a mirror–so I get ya on this.

    I’m interested that the book got published with such a slow buildup. Do you think it would’ve been a better book if the first 96 pages had been streamlined or cut?

    1. Honestly, Jenny, it could’ve just been me. Again, not my normal genre or writing style, so I might’ve been a little resistant. It is a New York Times Best Seller (not that that is the end-all-be-all, but it says something).

      And yeah, I recently broke a mirror. Yikes. I blamed it on the adhesive on the back of the actual mirror itself. Hopefully that was my escape clause 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I tried to read it. HATED it. 96 pgs to the hook? No wonder!? Glad you liked it, eventually.

    1. Yeah, I’m not sure I would’ve dedicated myself that far if it hadn’t come recommended by a friend. Of course, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up in the first place. But yes, I am also glad I liked it eventually. While reading it might’ve taken longer than I’m used to, I don’t regret the time I spent.

      Thanks for stopping by. Hope you have a good weekend.

  3. Wow, did L- really tell you that? He was one weird cat. Also, I didn’t know you went skydiving in Hawaii!!! You had way more fun than I did there!

    Book in a genre I don’t read often… Well, I’ll read almost anything – when I dig up the time to enjoy a book. However, I don’t read a ton of science fiction, so I’ll tell you about one I’m reading right now – a compilation of short sci-fi stories. It caught my eye because Neil Gaiman contributed to it (I ❤ Gaiman). I thought the spouse would like it, but I'm the one reading it. Go figure. Anyway, it's called Alien Contact, edited by Marty Halpern. As with most compilations, some of the stories aren't my cup of tea, one was bad enough I didn't even finish it, and some have introduced me to authors I'll make sure to read again. So far my favorites have been by Stephen King and Adam-Troy Castro. Overall, I'd recommend giving this one a whirl, too.

    And, I'm glad you read the book. 🙂 That one is a risky recommendation simply because of it's size & unusual style, but I also felt it was worth my time. I really liked the blurring of lines between historical fiction and fantasy. Truth be told though, I've decided she should have broken the whole thing up into a series. I really, really wanted more about Faerie, but she couldn't have told Strange's/Norrell's story if she'd let herself get sidetracked any more than she did. (I also truly enjoyed the inventive ways magic "contributed" to the war.) Separate books would have allowed that. Could be that I just enjoy compartmentalizing things though…

    1. Yeah, he was interesting to say the least.

      As with fantasy, I’m not much of sci-fi reader either, but I’ll take your recommendation for that one, as well.

      And interesting comments on this one. Perhaps you’re right. I think “sidetracked” is a good word for this book. It was a huge undertaking (and perhaps a bit of a risk?) for a first time author to put that much content out. I know it’s a NYT Best Seller, but fantasy is a huge market right now. I wonder how much crossover success she is having with other non-fantasy readers.

      Thanks for stopping by (and again, for recommending this one 🙂 ) Say “hi” to the hubby for me.

  4. Tom Jones? Huh, I would have never figured that of you. Now Ministry is more my cup of tea.
    I may check out that book bi love historical fantasy and it sounds interesting. One genre I hardly ever read is romance, but I did read a book by Nora Roberts called “Born of Fire” that was really good. I read it on a recommendation of a friend expecting to hate it, but instead was pleasantly surprised.
    I just finished a 2 book fantasy series called “eona” that was fantastic.

    1. Yeah, true confessions, right? But hopefully I’ll earn back my man points when I tell you (if I haven’t already) that I was in the pit for a Ministry concert. I think Erik might’ve been at the same concert. Pretty crazy.

      Nora Roberts, eh? Well, she’s gotta have something to sell as much as she does. I don’t think I’ve ever read a true romance. I read a mystery/romance once that wasn’t too bad.

      Thanks for stopping by. Hope you have a good weekend. We’re heading to Springdale for Jennifer’s birthday.

  5. Skydiving! I am not that brave, but I can imagine that it must have been beautiful and exhilirating! I love Fact 5: ‘He gave me a lead pipe to protect myself “because it would look more like self defense than a gun”.’ That is a line that would be fantastic in fiction, and vaguely horrifying in real life! 🙂

    1. I was actually terrified. But it combined my greatest fear (of falling from heights) with a dream that I’ve been having since I was a child (that I could fly). Can’t beat that. And yes, it was a life changing experience.

      And yes, great line from that guy, eh? I never did end up getting lessons in how to use the lead pipe. Most of us were just convinced he was paranoid. Thanks for stopping by. Have a good weekend.

  6. Reminds me a bit of “The Prestige”, a film about rival magicians from a few years ago. It was set in London, 19th century(?), and had some dark tones. Christian Bale was in it. Wasn’t too bad, even though it was a bit outside my normal fare. (Does that count for genre crossing?)

    1. I would say that counts for genre crossing. I also saw The Prestige, though I don’t remember much about it. Wasn’t that the one that introduced Tesla as a character? I remember liking the story, but not as much as I thought (or had been led to believe) I would.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Tom Jones kicks ass. I was lucky to see him in concert twice and even at his age, his voice can still blow the roof off.

    1. Right on, my brother. Yeah, the man has got some pipes.

      Thanks for stopping by. Hope all is going well with Forest of Shadows (and the holidays and everything else).

  8. Sky diving is cool! I did a lot of jumping in the military, and even though nasty buggers tried to pick you off from the ground, it was a rush!

    Karaoke rocks! I kick ass at the Drunken Skunk in town when I can get over there. I do a mean Paradise City!

    I’ll forget I saw the Tom Jones piece.

    Blaze

    1. Much thanks, my friend. And thanks again for the nomination.

      The Drunken Skunk? What an awesome name for a bar. I may have to make a trip to Wyoming just to go there. Although I don’t know that I could pull off GNR. In fact, I feel like I attempted Paradise City in a karaoke bar in San Francisco once without much success. A little too high of a register for me.

      And after reading the post, my wife asked if I really wanted to include the Tom Jones detail. Well, too late by that point, but I thought it would be funny. We don’t have to talk about it anymore.

      Looking forward to your interview in a couple weeks. Hope all is well.

  9. Yvonne wrote a story which has a lot of action taking place in the Drunken Skunk. Werewolves don’t do too well with karaoke, though. I say we teach them how it’s done.

    Blaze

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