Tuesday, April 20, 2010

_Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell_ by Susanna Clarke; _The Magicians by Lev Grossman

I’m annoyed at myself for not already having posted a long, thoughtful, and elegant post to match the thoughtful and lengthy elegance of Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell. This Hugo-winning book doesn't need any additional acclaim from the likes of me. It's just that I worry that I don't post much about the truly excellent books, because it's harder to come up with something good to say about them. 

The atmospheric buildup in this novel is amazing, and the tension that develops between the two titular magicians just gets more and more stressful till at times I had to put the book down. 

Since I feel like I often don't post enough about the books I like best, I'm going to go ahead and mention The Magicians by Lev Grossman before I'm very far into it. I believe I picked it up from a list of lesser-known but high-quality modern fantasies. It's already an exciting book, which grabbed me from the first page, with its worried young main character who is drafted into a magic school that's already ten times as interesting as Hogwarts. Some things I've noticed so far:  our main character Quentin has to work for his all-expenses-paid scholarship to dreamland; he worries about his own performance and about competition, not stupidly vicious rivalry from a Malfoy; and he doesn't lack parents...instead, he's already disconnected from them, and so doesn't miss them. 

The book has already opened up an interesting mystery. It suggests that the kids taken to be come magicians are the best and brightest of humanity...but since they stay secret, that means the best and brightest are being skimmed off the top and taken away every year. I'll be interested to find out how that develops; so far there is no hint of what the purpose of the school might be.


  1. I either read or heard (forget which) an interview with Grossman in which he described how he wanted his magic school to be different from Hogwarts. One of the things that he stressed was that he wanted magic to be DIFFICULT to master, whereas in the Harry Potter books the actual spells seem like a bit of Latin said with intensity.

    I think he said something about magic having to be tuned carefully to the environmental conditions, which I liked but which frustrated me a bit because, naturally, I have a magical grammar laying around somewhere that is built on the idea that every spell is tuned to a set of conditions unique to a particular point in time and space, so you can't just memorize one whole cloth.

  2. I read The Magicians. You'll have to tell me what you think. I found the non-Hogwartsness fine, but what a bunch of mopers! It was a joyless book, which I thought odd coming from a self-professed fan of the genre. I stuck with it hoping it would pay off, but no, I felt disappointed and underwhelmed at the end. I ended up wanting the hours of my life back...but maybe I just missed the whole point.

    Jonathan Strange, on the other hand--that I ADORE. I'm ready to read that one again, in fact.

  3. Oh noes, Bex! That was kind of a spoiler comment! I'm getting a lot of joy out of the characters' pain in The Magicians, though...their lives feel very REAL. I'm starting to wonder why the world isn't more different if so much magic exists in it, though.

    Maybe you can help me explain why Strange is so great? I have no idea how to explain it. I had to return it to the library, too, I don't have it handy to quote from it.