I can always tell a book has made an impression on me when I go to write the review and it takes hours longer than it should because I keep re-reading sections. Just a paragraph or two, to refresh my memory about a particular event or a certain phrase. One paragraph inevitably expands into several pages, a chapter, two chapters, until suddenly it’s hours later and I’ve written three sentences.
Not that I’ve done that recently.
It’s no wonder that this book constantly crops up on “You’ve Gotta Read This” lists. Despite it being over 800 pages long, there was no point where I wanted Clarke to hurry up and get to the point. She has all the refined language and richly constructed social structure of any classic novel, but chocked full of magic. Layers and layers of stories wrapped up in the main plot. Pages of footnotes that it seems Clarke threw in just for the pleasure of having an extra tidbit of unrelated tale swirling around her characters. Yet it’s never difficult to keep track of who is doing what with whom. At no point does it become labyrinthine. If you’ve ever read Dickens and found yourself longing for him to just…dial it back a bit, pick up Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. (I’m going with Dickens over Austen because Dickens usually had less romance, but either comparison will do). The other comparison I read was to Tolkien, which to be honest seems less apt. Clarke nailed the detailed world construction/background part of Tolkien’s mien, but the similarities end there. Maybe I can’t get past the differences in the obstacles facing the protagonists; there aren’t any epic journeys in Strange & Norrell. And their writing styles are completely different, and there are overall fewer magical creatures in Clarke’s book. Not that you notice. Clarke has filled her book with wonders and richness enough, and there is nothing I could describe as a deficiency.
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