Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Number of pages: 846
My copy: paperback, Christmas gift from Aaron

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.

* * *

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke is one of those books that passed by my radar, and I briefly considered reading it because I knew some people liked it…until I saw its length. Then I walked away, thinking that this is probably one of those books that I will not read anytime soon, and I would be quite content not to read it within my lifetime since it’s too thick, and I’m not exactly a huge fantasy reader anyway.

But you know what’s the most effective way for me to read a book that I never thought I’d be reading ever? Peer pressure. Or, give it to me as a gift. That is exactly what my friend Aaron did last Christmas, and I always make it a point to read the books gifted to me. The good thing is, he also gave a copy of this book to other friends in the book club, so we formed a little reading group for this last April to get us through this chunkster together.

It’s not that I was really intimidated by it. After all, I finished the tome that is Les Misérables. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is like, 700 pages less than Victor Hugo’s book. This should be easy.

It’s the 19th century, and magic has been long dead in England. Or so people thought, until an English gentleman named Gilbert Norrell showed everyone that magic is not dead. He becomes the only magician in England for a moment, helping the English government win in the Napoleonic wars, and maybe raising a certain dead woman on the side, too. Then another magician comes – young Jonathan Strange, who becomes Mr. Norrell’s apprentice. But the two of them are as different as night and day: while Norrell relies on books and follows magic to the letter, Strange likes to play with it, try new things and maybe even find a way to summon the Raven King just to learn more about magic. Clashing personalities, fairies, prophecies, war and a ton of footnotes follow these two magicians,

I finished reading this book in 34 days, 4 days late than the supposed reading schedule. I figure I would have finished this earlier if my April wasn’t so busy, because Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is quite engaging. The old English language wasn’t so hard to understand, and we get treated to interesting characters and situations from the start. I honestly had no idea what the book was about when I started reading it except that it was about these two people on the title, and for a moment I thought Strange was Mr. Norrell’s biographer. Heh. The book isn’t just about magic, though, or just the two gentlemen. If it was, then it would’ve been far shorter, yes? This is part historical (or alternate history, rather), so I found myself in a lot of war scenes in the book that were far more interesting than the ones I read in Les Misérables. Case in point: I slogged through the Waterloo part of Les Mis but breezed through the one here, because of Jonathan Strange. It is true: magic makes things more interesting. ;)

Another thing that I can’t not mention about this book is the footnotes, and the sheer amount of them. I don’t mind footnotes — in fact, I find them quite fun when I encounter them in books. Granted, they were distracting, especially when they span pages and pages in the book, just like how it was in this book. Theyr’e not really important, but as some of my buddies said, it provided a richer reading experience of Strange and Norrell’s story.

I enjoyed reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, I really did. Perhaps my only gripe in this book is how it really dragged at some point. It wasn’t exactly boring — not as boring as say, that chapter on Parisian slang in Les Mis, or the part about the sewer — but man did they drag. The second volume was interesting, but it took a really long time before some things really started happening. I suppose, like Les Mis, it adds more texture to the story, but it can get pretty tiresome after some time. Let’s get moving, please.

I have to hand it to the author, though, because when things started happening, they really started happening. Then I find that I can hardly put it down. While I wouldn’t exactly describe the last part unputdownable, the action made me want to just keep reading because I need to know how it ends. I liked how the ending wrapped up a lot of the loose ends in the first parts, but not without leaving a few more to leave the readers longing a little. Getting to the end was slightly bittersweet because I spent a lot of time in their world, and also just because of that ending.

So while there were some dragging parts, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was quite enjoyable, even for someone who was peer pressured to read it. ;) It’s a happy kind of peer pressure, though! And yeah, add me to the list of people who’s excited to see its BBC adaptation. I’m quite excited to see how they’d show the magic on the screen…and that man with thistle-down hair. :)

Rating: [rating=4]

Required Reading: April

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Required Reading: September

Ahoy there, look, it’s September!

Some of my book club friends received a very perky text message this morning about the fact that it’s September, and it’s almost Christmas ((Yep, we Filipinos start counting down to Christmas this early)) and because it’s the start of one of our biggest buddy reads ever today as well. September to remember? :)

I’m just really happy that we’re onto a new month because August was kind of…interesting. Some things are a bit too personal to divulge, but in terms of reading, August has been one of those slump-y months. I read, but I was terribly slow, and I hardly made a dent with my TBR because I ended up getting more new books and reading them instead of reading the ones I already have. It’s a vicious cycle, I tell you. But first, recap of my August Required Reading list (none of which I have written reviews for yet, eep!):

  • Lumayo Ka Nga Sa Akin by Bob Ong (1/5) – Ugh. I shouldn’t have expected much, really.
  • Paper Cuts by Pam Pastor (2/5) – I read this and Bob Ong’s book in one weekend. Aaron had to ask me if I was torturing myself on purpose. Not that it’s bad, but it’s not my kind of book after all. More details when I sit down and review it.
  • Noli Me Tangere by Jose Rizal (3-4/5) – Haven’t decided on the final rating. Rating it 3 seems so low because this is like THE novel that spurred the revolution against Spain in Filipino history so my Filipino heart feels that I should rate this higher. But as a reader…it’s not really that amazing.

Interestingly, I think I read so many books by Filipino authors this month too! I’d like to think it’s because of the really awesome 2nd Filipino ReaderCon that drove me to get more local books. :) I still have several local books on my TBR shelf that I am pretty sure I’ll be able to read this year, and I’m quite excited about it. Maybe I’ll finally reach that 20 Filipino books goal!

My review backlog is still a backlog — let me work on that. :P

Now let’s move on to September!

Required Reading: September

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Warbreaker by Brandon SandersonWarbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
Gollancz, 652 pages

Warbreaker is the story of two sisters, who happen to be princesses, the God King one of them has to marry, the lesser god who doesn’t like his job, and the immortal who’s still trying to undo the mistakes he made hundreds of years ago.

Their world is one in which those who die in glory return as gods to live confined to a pantheon in Hallandren’s capital city and where a power known as BioChromatic magic is based on an essence known as breath that can only be collected one unit at a time from individual people.

By using breath and drawing upon the color in everyday objects, all manner of miracles and mischief can be accomplished. It will take considerable quantities of each to resolve all the challenges facing Vivenna and Siri, princesses of Idris; Susebron the God King; Lightsong, reluctant god of bravery, and mysterious Vasher, the Warbreaker.

I’ve heard so many good things about Brandon Sanderson, but he was never really in one of my authors to-read-soon list. I have friends who are fans, but I never really saw enough reason to read him because…well, I’m not as much as a fantasy reader as my other friends are. Aaron gave me a copy of Warbreaker for my birthday, which I really appreciated for the very cool cover, but you know, I had no intention of reading it anytime soon. I know, I know — why wait, right? I don’t know really. But anyway, certain circumstances got me reading this book earlier than I expected to make up for some things that we don’t really have to talk about here. :P

Warbreaker is a story of two sisters. And a god. And another god. And a mysterious guy. Siri is the youngest princess in Idris who avoids responsibility but finds herself in the middle of one when she was sent instead of her sister Vivenna to marry the God King Susebron from Hallandren as part of a deal to save Idris from war. Vivenna sets off after her and finds conspiracies that shocked her sheltered world, and tries to start a rebellion even if she had no idea what she was doing. On the side, there’s Lightsong, the god of bravery who refuses to act like a god and believes that he really shouldn’t be one. And finally, there’s Vasher, a mysterious and powerful person whose real intentions remain a mystery until the end. These characters move in a world where people who die a heroic death get resurrected as gods to be worshiped by the people, where magic can be drawn from colors by use of a breath that can be harvested from a person one at a time.

It sounds absolutely fantastic, right? By fantastic, I mean, you know, fantasy. The world building in Warbreaker is solid. I was truly interested in how Sanderson’s world worked in Warbreaker, especially with colors and breaths. I thought it was cool thing to use for magic — everyday colors from surroundings can be used to make things move for you. I liked how it was tied with Breath, and how it was used and passed on and all that. I also liked the little intricacies, such as how members of the royal family has hair that changes color based on their emotions — the vain part of me liked this, although this meant that I can’t rely on my poker face for long. :P

I really liked how the characters were written too. I was rooting for Siri from the start, since she was more of my type of princess, but then Vivenna rose up and she made me love her, too. I liked Lightsong’s quips and Susebron’s personality (one of the surprising things) and Vasher’s mysterious vibe. Even the secondary characters were fun, especially the mercenaries that Vivenna worked with. I didn’t know who to root for, really, except for the five main characters, but I didn’t know exactly how they would all tie to each other until the major revelations in the end.

Warbreaker is not just a fantasy novel — it’s also a political one, dealing with how kingdoms work, threats of war and ulterior motives. I liked reading about these things, too, but I have to admit that it got a bit dragging at some point in the novel. I felt like it took a while before the action really happened, and it was probably why I lagged behind in reading this. If I wasn’t so invested in it already, I probably would’ve skipped some parts. It could have been shorter, I guess, or some parts of it could have been used to explain some of the lacking parts in the end. Warbreaker is meant to be standalone at first, I think, but the explanations at the end felt a bit rushed and lacking to really make sense of the history and the whereabouts of all the other characters.The ending wasn’t exactly a cliffhanger, but I thought the story begs for a sequel to answer all the questions left at the end.

Despite all that, I enjoyed reading Warbreaker. It’s a very cool fantasy novel that even someone who’s not really a fantasy reader enjoyed, so that’s saying something. I liked my first Brandon Sanderson book, and while he’s not quite in my to-read-soon and to-acquire-all author just yet, I will definitely read his other books. Soon. (Mistborn, anyone?)

Rating: [rating=4]

My copy: UK edition, birthday gift from Aaron

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