This was one of those books I kept putting off, the reason being I saw it too many times praised for on blogs and on everywhere else. And for some odd reason, that is a put-off for me (yes, we already have established that there is something wrong with me.) Then I “forced” myself to buy the book as it kept popping up as a recommendation on Goodreads. When I opened it and read the first sentence I was hooked.
I eagerly read every word even the footnotes. The world of Susanna Clarke is perfect, enchanting and catches your imagination. I loved her characters and how she toyed with them and how they toyed with the reader. However, what kept me reading the mammoth book wasn’t the characters and the enchanting world alone but, for a long time, I didn’t know what would come next. That gets rarer and rarer when you read a lot (and write yourself.)
When I clearly loved the book, I’m not blind to its problems. Its Achilles heel was the “lack” of plot. There was a plot, yes, but often enough the world building went before it. With most of the books that would irritate me but with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell I didn’t mind. Maybe I have changed as a reader or Susanna Clarke did her world so well I didn’t find it tedious. Mind me, the book was written in English tedious and superior way. I loved it. The book read itself for me in that tone and if I stop to think its pages the voice begins to narrate again. I know, I know, I should see someone about that (but who cares if a good book can narrate itself for them. This was a good book.)
If you are a writer like I, there is a thing or two to learn from Susanna Clarke writing. One of them is the attention to details. They make the world come alive. I’m sure if I was ported to her alternate reality, it would hold. Okay, she had history to aid her. So can all of us. Look at what G.R.R. Martin did. He based his books on actual historical events and drew his inspiration there.
I would say read this book if you want an English person reading it to you (if you don’t have one inside you, you can borrow mine), explaining all the magical details and who is who. Don’t read it if you want to keep thinking fairies are nice and not wicked at all. (Don’t hold that against them. That is just their nature for you.)