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Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the does-it-have-enough-sex dept.

Books 170

jmweeks writes "It comes in a black edition and a white edition, and I suppose this symbolizes the two schools of thought warring within. If you've been in any chain book store this month, you've seen its emblem--the raven in flight, the big swirling ampersand. Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is something extraordinary: many adult fantasy novels are taken seriously by their readers, the nerds among us; Strange & Norrell is taken seriously by its publisher and its critics as well. It is a small complaint, then, to say that it is taken perhaps a bit too seriously by its author." Read on for the rest of Weeks' review.

It is one of the great themes of fantasy, maybe even the theme: that some art or technology of incredible power has been lost, lost for ages--and just now, just in the present, it has been resurrected. We seek awakening, we seek renewal--I don't know, we seek something, because from The Lord of the Rings to The Wheel of Time to Stargate, this theme resonates.

In Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel, the lost art is magic. This is England as the Nineteenth Century opens, and magic--founded in this country by a king who was once its strongest practitioner, a king who reigned three hundred years--is not practiced any longer. Oh, hundreds of magicians still argue vigilantly over its customs and methods and history, but the casting of actual spells is beyond them.

Enter Gilbert Norrell, a strange little recluse of a man, who hoards books and does his damnedest to end the career of any magician he can find. Who is also, by the way, the first Englishman to do magic in centuries. Mr. Norrell's purpose is to restore magic to England, provided it is studied and practiced under his terms, and preferably by no one but him.

Jonathan Strange, a young man who stumbles upon magic on a whim, who is to become Norrell's colleague, student, and adversary, has something slightly different in mind.

The subject here is not good versus evil, but a clash of ego and philosophy. The novel's villains are driven by fear, weakness, and self interest; its heroes by ambition and wonder. This complexity is what makes the novel a work of serious fiction, what prevents it from being an epic. Epics are fate-driven and rarely concerned with shades of motivation. Characters act because they must act, they must save the world or all is lost, etc., etc. Strange and Norrell want with everything they have to restore magic to England, to found a school of thought, to--well, many other things that I won't spoil--and even if the whole story has been foretold, even if it is fated, it is a story that stems from their intentions.

This is not my complaint. That it is not epic I find refreshing. That it is character-driven I find engaging. In a book about magic, about the re-awakening of mysticism, my complaint is that there is so very little that is spellbinding. Jonathan Strange in particular seems to be driven by his own imagination, and yet he seems limited and his spells tend to do little more that move things about.

The novel takes place during the Napoleonic Wars, and not long after the magicians present themselves to society, they become employed in fighting back the French. This leads to a scene suggesting great imagination, a port blockaded by ships, sails, and even a crew, all made of mist. Yet once on the ground, Mr. Strange finds himself mostly occupied by making roads and then tearing them up again. This may be useful, but for a magician it seems petty.

That said, Clarke handles the particulars of spell-casting rather well. As a matter of plot, the novel's magic must follow certain rules: Spells must have limitations, bad results must be possible and irreversible, there must be no "take-backs." This is why, in the classic short story "The Monkey's Paw," the father isn't allowed to wish never to have made any wishes--we as readers don't accept stories that "cheat" that way. In Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Clarke skirts on the edge of cheating (she allows resurrection), but never really falls in. There is also the danger that spell-casting will devolve into a game of Mornington Crescent, which is to say a conspiracy among the magicians to pretend each isn't speaking complete gibberish. This Clarke nearly overdoes.

You may have heard that this novel is, well, Harry Potter for adults. Don't believe it. It's true that Clarke shares a publisher with J.K. Rowling, and that Rowling's success almost certainly affected the publisher's interest in pushing this novel, but the two authors share very little in terms of style. Clarke's work is witty but cold, while Rowling's prose is anything but subtle and a great deal warmer. I'm not the first, I'm sure, to make this comparison: I can think of few writers Clarke's work more clearly resembles than Jane Austen. Considering the setting of this novel, however, that's probably deliberate.

The main task of a writer of fantasy is to construct a new and different world, and in this Clarke has succeeded. Her overwhelming footnotes, the dozens of side tales told by one character or another, the books and customs and politics of an England not quite as it is, but wholly consistent unto itself--these build a believable whole, they tell an engrossing story, they suggest perhaps something more.

There is talent here, a great deal of it. I believe, on the evidence of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, that Susanna Clarke does have some great books in her. But for the time being, with this, her first novel, we'll have to settle for simply "good."


You can purchase Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Where it belongs! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10343637)

Hey, this one is actually in "Book Reviews" instead of IT! Congrats to the editors!

WHO FUCKING CARES (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10343646)

ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NO ONE!

Sounds worth a try (0)

erick99 (743982) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343690)

Well, having read all of the Harry Potter books aloud to my two sons, I think I might enjoy something a little different and oriented more towards adults. I think the reviewer is indicating I might enjoy this novel if that is what I want. I almost expect reviews of a novel to be somewhat negative so I can discount the overall negativeness of the review and give the book a chance.

-erick

Re:Sounds worth a try (4, Informative)

tanguyr (468371) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343901)

"A Game of Thrones" by George R.R. Martin. You won't regret it.

Help with iPod por favor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10343984)

I know this is off topic, but my iPod just fell in the friggin toilet!! There's some condensation on the screen and now it won't boot up at all.

Should i just let it dry for a day or two and try again or take it apart and dry everything out manually? Or let Apple service it for whatever ungodly amount they charge?

Re:Help with iPod por favor (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10344063)


OMFG! YUo R teh 1D10T!!!!! ROFLMAO!!1! Giv3 m3 OPS!!! Yer iP0d f311 in teh t01l3T b3c@Uz3 y3r a FAT lunix SL0B!!!

Re:Help with iPod por favor (1, Informative)

erick99 (743982) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344121)

Let it dry out and I am guessing it will be okay. If it is not, find a technician (unless you are comfortable doing it) and open the case and you may have to clean out any mineral deposits and/or rinse the circuit board(s) with distilled water and allow to dry. It's surprising how well electronics can survive a plop into the water. I've learned this over the past 21 years in the computer industry. Good luck and I hope it turns out well.

-erick

Re:Help with iPod por favor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10344288)

Let it dry for a day or too, and then see?

Re:Help with iPod por favor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10344610)

You should have flushed it.

sunken iPod (1)

tgibbs (83782) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344611)

Check out this web site [methodshop.com]

Re:Sounds worth a try (1)

pyrrhonist (701154) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344752)

Well, having read all of the Harry Potter books aloud to my two sons, I think I might enjoy something a little different and oriented more towards adults.

Try something by Gregory Maguire [amazon.com] . The Maguire book everybody has heard of is Wicked, and is still an interesting read, even if the book is a little over-hyped.

"adult fantasy novels"? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10343691)

What, you mean like the Bible?

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (0, Flamebait)

goldspider (445116) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343760)

If there was ever a case for a +5: Flamebait...

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (3, Insightful)

maxpublic (450413) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343801)

Only to those who can't laugh at themselves.

Max

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (1)

atriusofbricia (686672) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343828)

That would only be true if you thought the GP was posting that purely as a joke. Somehow, I doubt it. Either way, even as a joke it isn't very funny.

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (3, Funny)

maxpublic (450413) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344164)

You fundamentalists have no sense of humor. When my wife took to calling the incredibly bloody "The Passion of the Christ" - y'know, the Mel Gibson schlock that recently came out - "The Jesus Christ Chainsaw Massacre" she got nothing but grief from Christians who got their panties in a wad over it.

Absolutely no sense of humor when it comes to anything remotely connected to your religion.

Max

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10344239)

If you actually had religion that you truly believed in, you would be quite humorless about such topics too. But since you are a godless turd, you can afford to be Mr. Funnyman about it. Eternal agony awaits you either way. *smile*

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (1)

maxpublic (450413) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344270)

I would expect no less from an anonymous coward.

Max

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (1)

atriusofbricia (686672) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344743)

Geez, if you're going to drop a comment like that you could at least stand behind it and login. I have to agree with maxpublic here, a comment like that can only be expected of an AC.

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (1)

Txiasaeia (581598) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344253)

Well, it's not so much a "sense of humour" as it is a matter of fact that Christians are bashed about every day, as evidenced by the grandparent post. If we tend to get a bit twitchy, well, who can blame us :) (I'm an evangelical, not a catholic, and I too found the passion to be extremely violent and bloody)

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (1, Interesting)

s0l0m0n (224000) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344709)

It's the evangelism that makes me bash, you know. The evangelical tradition is Christians bashing everyone else's beliefs. How often have I heard "Repent sinner, or go to hell!" from your ilk. Go ahead and get twitchy, but know that YOU are the cause of your own troubles.

When you are ready to have an enlightened, peaceful religion, you will drop the conversion drive, let people live their lives, and keep the core tenants of your religion, which are mostly good. Until then, you are just a bunch of petty bastards arguing over souls that don't belong to you.

But back to the topic at hand.. Seems like and interesting story ('Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell', not the bible). I generally don't get on well with fantasy stories set in the near past, present or the future, because well, I'm pretty sure that no magic is happening in those time zones. However, if the presentation is subtle (see John Crowley's 'Little, Big' fro an example of what I refer to), I can ussually suspend disbelief for long enough to enjoy the story. With amazon listing it at 16.99$, sounds like it might be worth the time.

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (3, Insightful)

Txiasaeia (581598) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344884)

maybe you're misunderstanding the term "evangelical." There are three major branches in Christianity: Catholic, Protestant (lutheran, presbyterian and the like), and Evangelical (Baptist, Alliance, Mennonite, etc.) All of us are supposed to evangelise, but seriously, I've never actually heard somebody use the term "repent or go to hell, sinner!" used in all seriousness. I do have a peaceful religion; I don't usually evangelise unless somebody wants to, and I would definitely not condemn somebody for what they do - that's God's job. When I'm God, I'll judge others; until then, I'm just doing what Jesus asks of us: Love God & love your neighbour as yourself. I'm sorry if "my ilk" has offended you in the past.

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (2, Funny)

Txiasaeia (581598) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344905)

Just to clarify: "When I'm God" was meant as hyperbole. I don't expect to ever become God. Okay, *now* flame away ;) We Christians are used to it, what with the lions & such.

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (1)

atriusofbricia (686672) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344723)

Who are these fundamentalists you speak of? I just didn't think the, now GGP, was truly posted as a joke and more as flamebait. And even as a joke, I didn't think it was very funny. Not because it involved the Bible, but because it wasn't funny.

As far as the "Passion" goes, I still haven't seen it. Not sure I'm going to bother. However, based on what I've read, seen, and heard from those who have seen it. I would have to agree that it sounds like a 2.5 hour snuff film. If they wanted to protray the life and times of Jesus, they didn't have to use 30 gallons of blood and gore. Take that with a grain of salt though, as I said, I haven't seen it.


PS: If you can't laugh at yourself, you have issues. That includes your beliefs. And if I seem a bit annoyed in this post, I just don't like being called a fundamentalist. On the other hand, if you weren't calling me one. I'm sorry.

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10344287)

It's not funny because he speaks the truth? You know deep down that your religion is based on a book of fluff, and you are just too afraid to admit it.

I highly suggest you take a close look at your accomplishments and goals in life, and then take a look at Humanism. The world would be a much better place if everyone was a Humanist, we aren't going to succeed by believing in some man in the clouds that doesn't exist, we'll succeed by taking our lives into our own hands, working hard, helping others, and trying to do things that will "leave a mark" for years to come.

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (1)

Three Headed Man (765841) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343834)

So you mean moderators, right?

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (-1, Troll)

Austerity Empowers (669817) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343855)

More like +5 Troll.

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10344107)

If there was ever a case for a +5: Flamebait...

Linux makes the baby jesus cry... :-(

.

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (5, Funny)

cryptogryphon (547264) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343793)

a novel the bible is not, and it only rates adult 'cos of the sex.

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10343871)

"...And Jesus went down into the town of Nazareth, and there he met Mary Magdalene..."

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (2, Funny)

ACPosterChild (719409) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344489)

Yep. Because, afterall, violence, vengence, and non-tolerance are all OK for kids to hear about. Boobies, on the other hand, are right out!

Re:"adult fantasy novels"? (2, Funny)

Humpinate (576482) | more than 9 years ago | (#10345193)

HaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHa!!!!!!
Man I haven't laughed that hard since Mississippi repealed Pi !!!!!

The job of the fantasy writer (5, Funny)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343722)


> The main task of a writer of fantasy is to construct a new and different world

E.g., one where supermodels chase after Slashdotters in hopes of learning Linux and having their babies.

Re:The job of the fantasy writer (1)

red floyd (220712) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344110)

No, that only happens in GE appliance commercials.

Re:The job of the fantasy writer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10344607)

done
http://www.geekculture.org/joyoftech/index.h tml

I know why no one cares! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10343727)

There is no "from the *insert clever dept. name*"! Poor Timothy couldn't find a dept. to sponsor him. I have an idea:

from the who-gives-a-shit dept.

An encouraging thought to me (5, Interesting)

FunWithHeadlines (644929) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343740)

"The subject here is not good versus evil, but a clash of ego and philosophy. The novel's villains are driven by fear, weakness, and self interest; its heroes by ambition and wonder. This complexity is what makes the novel a work of serious fiction, what prevents it from being an epic. Epics are fate-driven and rarely concerned with shades of motivation. Characters act because they must act, they must save the world or all is lost, etc., etc."

Not only was this an excellent review (thank you for submitting it), but I found the above passage very encouraging on a personal level. I am writing a fantasy novel (or series of novels) based on what I, as a teen, found personally was my only real complaint about LoTR: I wanted more in-depth characterization. No, that's not entirely fair, for LoTR certainly has some in-depth characters, but you get the idea. I wanted to not write yet-another-fanboy-saves-the-world epic, but to explore on an adult level the sorts of emotions you or I would find ourselves if we were in that situation.

I've written and edited the first book, over 400 pages, and now have started in on book two. I've queried a dozen literary agents who specialize in fantasy fiction, but I've yet to find one who is willing to even read a sample. They all sent back rejection notes that were remarkably similar: Too busy, best of luck with someone else.

Oh well, I will keep trying. In the meantime, I'm very glad to hear that someone likes complexity, shades of motivation, adult-level emotional responses. That's been my exact goal, and if there is a market for a Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell book, there should be one for mine as well (I hope, anyway). Thanks for the encouragement, jmweeks, even though you didn't know that's what you were doing!

Re:An encouraging thought to me (4, Informative)

qbzzt (11136) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343791)

Try Baen. They do not require an agent, and they are looking for new authors.

Re:An encouraging thought to me (1)

FunWithHeadlines (644929) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343851)

Thank you for the tip. They are actually my #1 target once I got beyond the try-to-find-an-agent stage, which is usually required at most publishing houses. The only reason I didn't try Baen yet is I read they have about an eight-month wait to hear if you will get accepted, and they prefer you do not do multiple submissions. So I thought I would try the agents first, and then when it came time to hitting the publishers directly Baen would be my first stop. I like their philosophy a LOT.

And, well, frankly, I'm at a point where I'm not sure how to proceed. As I continue writing, I find that the characters deepen, and as they do the plot sometimes change. I've begun to wonder if the best thing is to at least get through the first draft of the whole book (1200 pages, I guesstimate) before peddling the edited, refined book one. Just in case I want to go back and change some things in book one. Once it's published, you can't really do that. Just talking out loud here, but suggestions welcome.

Re:An encouraging thought to me (1)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343881)

Once you get an agent, you may find that other publishing houses have an eight-month wait, also.

Re:An encouraging thought to me (1)

FunWithHeadlines (644929) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343920)

Oh, I'm sure you're right. But at least then you have someone working for you, and someone who would have contacts at multiple houses. What I was afraid of was contacting Baen and then having to sit back and do absolutely nothing for eight months. Then if they say No, I've accomplished nothing for eight months. That's why I did things in the order I did.

Re:An encouraging thought to me (1)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344407)

As a fantasy fan, I'd suggest that. Nothing more heartbreaking than having an author die in mid-trilogy. Both for the loss of their art and for never knowing how the story ends.

Re:An encouraging thought to me (1)

mattdm (1931) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343866)

I've written and edited the first book, over 400 pages, and now have started in on book two. I've queried a dozen literary agents who specialize in fantasy fiction, but I've yet to find one who is willing to even read a sample. They all sent back rejection notes that were remarkably similar: Too busy, best of luck with someone else.

Here's someone else [nomediakings.org] you might try. Jim Munroe spoke at this year's OLS [linuxsymposium.org] about independent media, Linux and free software, and self-publishing. Very interesting, and maybe helpful for what you're trying to do.

Re:An encouraging thought to me (1)

FunWithHeadlines (644929) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343896)

Thank you very much. I will check it out.

Re:An encouraging thought to me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10343894)

Not only was this an excellent review (thank you for submitting it), but I found the above passage very encouraging on a personal level. I am writing a fantasy novel (or series of novels) based on what I, as a teen, found personally was my only real complaint about LoTR: I wanted more in-depth characterization. No, that's not entirely fair, for LoTR certainly has some in-depth characters, but you get the idea. I wanted to not write yet-another-fanboy-saves-the-world epic, but to explore on an adult level the sorts of emotions you or I would find ourselves if we were in that situation.

c.f. George R. R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series.

Re:An encouraging thought to me (2, Informative)

bgalehouse (182357) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343900)

Gene Wolfe has often written about what is involved in starting as a science fiction author. I believe the specific essays which I am thinking of are included in "Castle of Days".

Anyway, there two bit of advice that I remember most clearly. Subject to memory error, the first is to try to publish some short stories first - less risk for the publisher, and then they know you. Second is to look for an agent once you've a letter of interest from a publisher. If they won't help you negotiate a deal with a publisher lined up and talking to you, then they won't help.

Re:An encouraging thought to me (1)

FunWithHeadlines (644929) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343936)

Thanks for the passed-on advice. I do have four published articles already, a fact I pointed out in my letters to each agent. They are not fiction articles, of course, so that's not directly applicable to these books, but at least it should show that I have been paid as a writer.

Re:An encouraging thought to me (2, Interesting)

Mateito (746185) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344156)

try to publish some short stories first.

This may be because, in the literary world, its generally said that everybody want's to be a poet. Those whoe can't write poetry, write short stories. Those who can't write short stories, write novels.

The idea being that short stories are more difficult to write than novels. You have relatively small amount of space to present your story, it has to have an impact, and you can't explicitly build in the back story.

As many novels have shown, especially in Sci-Fi, you can run to 600, 700... 1000 pages. Its a different art-form. A lot of them are crap.

Start writing short stories. It will help you, in the long run, to be a good novelist.

Re:An encouraging thought to me (2, Interesting)

adam.skinner (721432) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344018)

I had the desire to read another set of books that I had in my youth which had excellent character development. Do check out the Guardian's of the Flame [amazon.com] series if you'd like some light, entertaining reading with quality characters.

Sounds like a good book, (2, Insightful)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344032)

But maybe you would have better success if it wasn't a fantasy novel. If you really want to explore on an adult level the sorts of emotions you or I would find ourselves if we were in that situation. you need to place us in a position that isn't difficult to grasp. What I'm saying is that often in fantasy or scifi books the superfoulous crap thats put in (Technological devices in scifi, wizards and magic in fantasy) gets in the way of exploring those emotions.

Re:Sounds like a good book, (1)

FunWithHeadlines (644929) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344774)

"you need to place us in a position that isn't difficult to grasp. What I'm saying is that often in fantasy or scifi books the superfoulous crap thats put in (Technological devices in scifi, wizards and magic in fantasy) gets in the way of exploring those emotions."

Correct. Which is why my fantasy contains neither wizards nor magic. The protagonists have to work things out for themselves without being able to rely on the crutch of magic. The only fantastical elements of my fantasy are the types of characters. It's not just humans, and each type of creature has its own strengths and limitations that other types do not share. But otherwise you might as well be in the early Middle Ages.

Re:An encouraging thought to me (2, Interesting)

nine-times (778537) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344090)

OP:"...This complexity is what makes the novel a work of serious fiction, what prevents it from being an epic. Epics are fate-driven and rarely concerned with shades of motivation. Characters act because they must act, they must save the world or all is lost, etc., etc...."

P: ...I am writing a fantasy novel (or series of novels) based on what I, as a teen, found personally was my only real complaint about LoTR: I wanted more in-depth characterization. No, that's not entirely fair, for LoTR certainly has some in-depth characters, but you get the idea....

I would really say that this isn't fair to epics in general. I read LoTR as an adult, and I found the characters to be very deep at times. I don't think it would have been successful if the characters were all so simply acting out of necessity.

I think what both you, and the original poster, might be doing (no offense) is mistaking writing style for depth. Writing has been shifting, for some time, towards more and more inner monologue and more explicit charactization by the narrator. In other words, books now tend to say what older books implied, but the same depth was implied. I might argue that the old writing styles are, in fact, more sophisticated, since I sometimes feel like modern authors are spoon-feeding me motivations and meaning far too often. However, it may be more related to our culture being more and more psychoanalytical with our use of language.

At the very least, the hairs go up on the back of my neck when people start talking about characters from mythology and classic literature being flat and two-dimensional. Something strikes me as entirely wrong about that. Maybe it means you aren't reading carefully enough? Again, no personal offense intended.

Re:An encouraging thought to me (2, Interesting)

FunWithHeadlines (644929) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344200)

I appreciate what you are saying, and I even tried to modify my original thought in the post. Absolutely there are fully fleshed-out characters in classic literature, and that includes LoTR. What I wanted to do was expand some areas. For example, the southern armies that came at Sauron's call at the end of the Third Age: What was their motivation? Didn't they think they were doing something good and right? Or were they just "evil"? I wanted to explore the paradox of an organization that does evil things while being made up of individuals convinced they were doing the right thing.

I want to explore the very idea of power and corruption, and whether it is possible to separate the two (probably not), and so what should one do with that knowledge when the opportunity for power comes along.

I also wanted to give female characters equal time, so it's not nine men doing all the work with the women helping here and there and then showing up at the end (Eowyn, excepted, of course).

So I'm not trashing LoTR or classic literature by any means. I LOVE classic literature. I just wanted to add my own two cents to the ocean of stories.

Re:An encouraging thought to me (1)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344447)

The men of the SOuth had long standing wars with Gondor, and had been under Sauron's rule in the old days. Thats why they came. A lot of these side facts can be gleaned from the Appendices, Unfinished Tales, The Silmarilion, and his other published notes.

Re:An encouraging thought to me (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344580)

Sure, that's what writers do. Variations on themes, changes of focus, rewriting old stories in a different context, etc. As a writer, it sounds like you're doing what you should: putting your own spin (point of view) on old ideas. I'm not even opposed to the more psychoanalytic way of writing, but I shudder when someone starts saying it's more complex.

Part of the reason I kept saying "no offense" was that, I wasn't necessarily even responding to the meaning behind what you were saying. Like I said, when I hear/read something that implies superficiality in classic literature, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I feel like I should really say something.

I guess partially is because I used to think so. I thought Oedipus Rex was a superficial nonsensical little story, until I read through enough of it in the original Greek to get the drift. A lot of the classics have the nice quality that if you are a simple reader reading it as a simple book, it presents itself as a simple book. However, if you read it looking for complexity, all the complexity you could want is in there.

Again, I'm not saying this because I necessarily think you'd argue, but I do feel compelled to combat any thought in people's minds that classic literature is simple.

So, write on, and good luck.

Re:An encouraging thought to me (1)

jmweeks (49705) | more than 9 years ago | (#10345258)

(I'm the reviewer.)
I would really say that this isn't fair to epics in general. I read LoTR as an adult, and I found the characters to be very deep at times. I don't think it would have been successful if the characters were all so simply acting out of necessity.
It was never my intention to say that epics can't have complex characters. Some do, some do not. In mainstream fiction you get characters made of cardboard and styrofoam as well as the ones that fell they may have come right out of your life. This is a question of talent, plain and simple--of whether the writer has the right kind of eye.

No, what I'm talking about is a type of perspective, and perhaps even a type of inspiration. The perspective of an epic is, by nature, "This is what happened." The whole narrative is driven with fate in mind. The characters may (or may not) have complex motivations of their own, but to the narrative those motivations matter very little.

In--let's be pretensious and just call it this--"serious fiction", the perspective closes in on the characters. The story here is "This is what is happening." The story is allowed to concentrate on trifling things, because it is about whatever the characters are about.

Ok, that's the perspective. The inspiration I mentioned is simply what drives the story as the author is writing it. In heavily fated stories the inspiration is plot, and the characters are marched around to carry out actions that fulfill this plot. Some writers are better at this than others, but most tend to be pretty clumsy. Any time you see a character acting for no good (character) reason, but bringing about a great deal of action ... well, yeah.

The other method of storytelling (these are not completely exclusive) is to let the characters drive. That is, to move them on terms that would make sense to them internally. The problem with this is you can't really have more than a vague idea of where the story is going to end, that is until it does end. So in epics, this is mainly out.

Re:An encouraging thought to me (1)

de Selby (167520) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344095)

"I'm very glad to hear that someone likes complexity, shades of motivation, adult-level emotional responses. That's been my exact goal, and if there is a market for a Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell book, there should be one for mine as well (I hope, anyway)."

It's good to hear that more people are working in this direction. When I see a real-life villain say, "I am this way because I am eeeviil! ha-ha ha-ha. And I soon my forces of doom will spread around the globe!" as he rubs his hands together in a small display of his neutoric habits--instead of "What do you mean I'm the bad guy?! You're the bad guy, here!"--then maybe I'll consider simple good vs evil stories to be satisfying.... maybe.

It can be hard for me to watch a movie or read a book in which there is lax motivation and depth and not think of Captain Planet [turner.com] . I don't know if I should laugh or cry half the time.

Re:An encouraging thought to me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10344487)

I'd like to read your 1st book to offer helpful critique. I've been reading sci-fi, westerns, fantasy and more since about 9 years old (about 27 years or so of reading). I'd be happy to sign and NDA or whatever you wish first.

If interested, email me at ratometeratgmaildotcom

Hmm (-1, Flamebait)

pHatidic (163975) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343770)

any adult fantasy novels are taken seriously by their readers

And the makers of vaseline.

Well written review (3, Interesting)

keshto (553762) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343782)

For once, it was a well-written review, devoid of either childing errors or put-on verbiage.

However, I think his final grade for the book ("good") is too harsh. Having read the description that he gave before that, I'd have gone for somewhere between "very good" to "excellent".

Re:Well written review (1)

JohnnyNoSPAM (815401) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344133)

I agree that the review was well written. As for the final score... a rating is subjective. I haven't read the book, but this review certainly makes it sound enticing enough.

A picture's worth a 10^3 words... (5, Funny)

GillBates0 (664202) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343794)

If you've been in any chain book store this month, you've seen its emblem--the raven in flight, the big swirling ampersand.

Screenshot of book cover below:
--------
| & |
| |
| -v- |
--------

J/K...:)
actual image here: http://images.amazon.com/images/P/1582344167.01.LZ ZZZZZZ.jpg

Re:A picture's worth a 10^3 words... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10344261)

Link to picture of book cover [amazon.com] .

Re:A picture's worth a 10^3 words... (1)

nmnilsson (549442) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344612)

But that not a raven, it's a vortex!
...and what's with the succubus?

Re:A picture's worth a 10^3 words... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10344757)

Is it just me or did anyone else see a screenshot of a nethack demon squaring off against a dust vortex in that last post?

Are there text differences between the editions? (2, Interesting)

jjsaul (125822) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343802)

When you say there is a black and a white edition, you're not saying textual differences like in The Dictionary of the Khazars, right?

Good Books In Everyone... (1)

Wandering Wombat (531833) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343815)

... everyone has at least one great story inside of them, but sadly most people lack the writing skills to get past the introduction. Personally, I think some wires got crossed, because stories I wrote years ago and didn't get published (too short, incomplete) have become bastardized as: Andromeda, The Forgotten, The One (with Jet Li), The Collector, and a bunch of other movies and TV shows. (Please bear in mind, my story is like Andromeda inly in the VERY BROADEST terms, but sadly, thats enough to keep me from ever publishing it.)

Anyone else ever have that problem? An idea you thought was yours, and a year later it ends up on the screen?

The funniest one for me was it turns out a story I wrote is VERY VERY, and I mean frighteningly similar to a book written in the 1950's... stupid time-travelling literature thieves.

Re:Good Books In Everyone... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10343889)

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. ---R.W. Emerson

Re:Good Books In Everyone... (1)

foog (6321) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343972)

Sure, it's Why I Am Not A Writer: none of the ideas I come up with are really original or compelling enough to force me to hone my craft to a professional level, though I made vague, undisciplined, and mostly misguided attempts when I was younger.

one of the most-repeated bits of advice for aspiring science-fiction and fantasy authors is to read as much of the genre as possible, especially short stories, because ideas get repeated so often, and magazine editors are desperate for original material.

That said, I'm not sure how feasible acquiring an encyclopaedic knowledge of short fiction is, in any genre, or how one would go about it.

Re:Good Books In Everyone... (1)

Wandering Wombat (531833) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344029)

Well, I read as much as I can, and I work hard to make my work original. See, much like a post a few above mine, only in the broadest terms are my ideas recycled, much in the same way that this book review is like Harry Potter. Yes, it's British. Yes, there's magic. Therefore, the connection is set.

With my story, yes, a ship is lost in time for a hundred or so years, and yes, the universe has changed. Thats the ONLY similarity, and yet I distinctly remember being told "Why did you have to rip off Andromeda?" even though mine is clearly dated years before Andromeda ever came out.

Also, very good quote, Coward Who Replied To My First Post. Very poetic. I thought of it first, though...

Re:Good Books In Everyone... (1)

VAXcat (674775) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344483)

Heck, go ahead and write your book - the theme of lost star empires and echoes of former glory, brought to life by a remnant of the past hardly originated with Roddenberry and Andromeda...Keith Laumer wrote several stories and novels based on such an idea, in the '60s and '70s, and they were far better than Andromeda - for example, "Earthblood" (what I'd give to see it made into a series or movie).

Re:Good Books In Everyone... (1)

fdiskne1 (219834) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344473)

...Anyone else ever have that problem? An idea you thought was yours, and a year later it ends up on the screen?

It happened to me all the time. I wrote a story similar to "The Crow" way before the movie came out. I've written scenes where I could visualize it in my head how it would look on the screen and years later saw a movie that had it down exactly as I saw it. I've read books and knew how they'd end because I had similar stories I never got around to writing that went the same way.

If I didn't know better (or do I?) I'd say there's a public sub-conciousness out there that we all tap into to come up with new ideas.

Re:Good Books In Everyone... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10345053)

If I didn't know better (or do I?) I'd say there's a public sub-conciousness out there that we all tap into to come up with new ideas

Sure there is, it's called culture. There are a whole lot of people who have read almost exactly the same things you have, watched the same things you have, and experienced things pretty close to what you have, even at approximately the same time in their lives/developmental stages. People really aren't all that unique when you get down to knowledge and personality, most people fit into some category. It's not surprising that we share a lot of the same ideas, imagery, etc. It's what allows us to communicate meaningfully with each other.

Re:Good Books In Everyone... (1)

DrVomact (726065) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344495)

Well, "story ideas" are trivial. The hard part is turning the idea into an actual story...better yet, an actually interesting story. That is what writing is about: taking an idea and turning it around, twisting it a bit, so as to get a completely new perspective on it, so that the story sounds fresh and original. That's why you can't copyright ideas, only words. Originality doesn't consist of presenting ideas no one has ever heard of, it consists of envisioning familiar ideas in a new way.

Let's put it this way: if you had a truly original idea, something no one had ever thought of before, then no one could understand it.

Re:Good Books In Everyone... (1)

cmowire (254489) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344544)

Well, here's the thing.

Very few books written are actually origional.

I mean, rebuilding a fallen empire like in Andromeda has been done over and over and over again, all the way back to Roman time. Battlestar Galactica? Aneid?

Remember the MICE quotient? Milieu, Idea, Characters, Event. Rebuilding a fallen empire is just an Event. A story's not just about an event, it's about the characters and ideas and milieu, too.

This is what the Tinfoil Hat is for (1)

Ira Sponsible (713467) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344689)

You gotta keep your Tinfoil Hat on until you have the book published, otherewise you're just broadcasting your ideas to the rest of the planet. Jeez, man, you should have heard the phrase "Keep it under your hat." TINFOIL HAT for privacy. It works. It can be stylish. Soon it will be fashionable Just like these things! [slashdot.org]

Then go write. (1)

cuberat (549657) | more than 9 years ago | (#10345022)

Pardon me for being abrupt, but the reason the stories you wrote years ago didn't get published have nothing to do with being redundant with the stories that did. They didn't get published for two reasons you mentioned - they were too short, and incomplete - and one that was implied: you never gave it a shot.

Maybe there are no new themes since Shakespeare and maybe there's nothing new under the sun, but if you're a writer that shouldn't stop you. I guarantee you that if you write something with a good hero, a charming rogue, a damsel in distress, a dashing villain, and you put them through conflict and resolution in some interesting way, you've got the basis for a fine story that will be interesting to someone.

Not to mention that new readers are born every day, and maybe your rendition of an old theme will be the first time they see it. To use a baseball analogy, you can have a long and lucrative career if you never hit a home run but put up a single or double every other time at bat.

Please, go forth and write, edit, and submit for publication. And if you won't, then admit it is because you are lazy or self-concious or full of doubt or some reason besides, "I could have written The Matrix but I didn't because someone already did."

Sounds interesting... (1)

Chuck Bucket (142633) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343830)

I like the idea of a lost art or power that is waiting to be discovered and used by a current generation. It's been said that there is no new art, and that it's all a reflection of the past. Still, the constant striving towards a new way to express ones self seems to be an ongoing theme in everyones' life; it gives them purpose.

This reminds me of stories like Indiana Jones, to The Blues Brothers! Truely a universal ideal.

ACB

Sad news - magic dead at 2,354 (1)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343913)

I just heard some sad news on the Sci-Fi - the beloved Ancient Arte of Ye Magick was found dead in its Maine home this morning. There weren't any more details. I'm sure everyone in the Slashdot community will miss it - even if you didn't enjoy its Great Work, there's no denying its contributions to genre fiction. Truly a universal ideal.

Re:Sounds interesting... (1)

cbiffle (211614) | more than 9 years ago | (#10345117)

I like the idea of a lost art or power that is waiting to be discovered and used by a current generation.


Many of us call that "Unix."

Fantasy reflect real life? (3, Insightful)

OutHouse (816159) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343848)

"Mr. Norrell's purpose is to restore magic to England, provided it is studied and practiced under his terms, and preferably by no one but him. Jonathan Strange, a young man who stumbles upon magic on a whim, who is to become Norrell's colleague, student, and adversary, has something slightly different in mind. " Speculation here - I haven't read the book... but this almost sounds like proprietary versus open source type of argument???

Re:Fantasy reflect real life? (4, Funny)

Austerity Empowers (669817) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343908)

No, clearly Strange stole secrets of Mr. Norrell's magic and is simply wishes to spread them to the masses without authorization.

-Darl

Re:Fantasy reflect real life? (1)

easter1916 (452058) | more than 9 years ago | (#10343955)

Stop whoring for karma, you nerdish strumpet.

Re:Fantasy reflect real life? (1)

The_reformant (777653) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344062)

this almost sounds like proprietary versus open source type of argument


you sir read too much slashdot!

Re:Fantasy reflect real life? (1)

alphakappa (687189) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344243)

Of course, I forgot this is Slashdot.. how can people *not* think in terms of Open Source. For Heaven's sake, this is a friggin fantasy book! :-)

Re:Fantasy reflect real life? (1)

version5 (540999) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344431)

this almost sounds like proprietary versus open source type of argument

I just finished reading the book. Its very like much like that, although I think that even though book leans towards open-source populism, that doesn't seem to be the focus of the book.

No, clearly Strange stole secrets of Mr. Norrell's magic and is simply wishes to spread them to the masses without authorization

Yeah, that's true too.

HARDCORE! (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10343905)

This book is very good, but is almost Dickensian in its density and heavy-handed in its treatment of the major themes. It requires a LOT of energy to get through this one properly. Worth the read, but only if you ignore the critics and take it for what it's worth. NOT Harry Potter for adults-this is something altogether different.

Jane Austin style admitted (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10344094)

In an interview by KPCC-FM, the NPR station in Pasadena, California, the author said that she was in Southern California to give a book reading at "Book Soup." She admitted that she deliberately emulated the style of Jane Austin, and set the novel in exactly the time period that Austenites are used to. She did say that more happens in it, world-wise, than in Jane Austin. She also denied any interest in doing her own screenplay, or even meeting any Hollywood people. "My agent handles that." She said. She wants to concentrate on writing her second novel, which is not a sequel or prequel. -- Professor Jonathan Vos Post
http://magicdragon.com
over 15,000,000 hits/year

Consider "simple" magic... (1)

jbarr (2233) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344147)

In a book about magic, about the re-awakening of mysticism, my complaint is that there is so very little that is spellbinding. Jonathan Strange in particular seems to be driven by his own imagination, and yet he seems limited and his spells tend to do little more that move things about.
Hmmm. I don't know. I haven't read the book, so I obviously can't speak to it specifically, but consider this concept for a plot: Imagine that the world we live in is our current "reality", and you actually stumble across someone who CAN "move things about" with magic. No, it's not "spellbinding" in the classic sense, but it would also be one of the grated "finds" in history. Don't sell short a plot of "simple" magic...

Stolen (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10344208)

I work at a small bookstore in a local mall part-time, and we had three copies of this book. Personally, I had never heard of it before, and the cover is very nondescript. The book itself is rather large, and every one came shrink wrapped (which I thought was bizarre). My manager put them out on the shelf this way.

One week after we got them, all three had been stolen. It would be a task, to say the least, to get that book in particular out of the store without anyone noticing (i.e. it was a bit awkward to handle). We were all confused by the fact that we'd never heard of it, and assumed it wouldn't be "popular".

Was there any sort of build up or fanfare for this book before it was released? Or were our copies stolen by one diligent person? :P

Re:Stolen (1)

Andy_R (114137) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344828)

It's the title Bloomsbury are putting all their weight behind for Christmas sales. The hype machine has not really got going yet, but I have head that the print run of hardback 'review copies' sent out to journalists was larger than the entire run of your average best-selling hardback novel.

My elevator pitch... (4, Interesting)

cmpalmer (234347) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344222)

I'm about a third of the way through it now, so I can't give a full review, but I am enjoying it greatly. I bought it after reading about it on Neil Gaiman's blog, which is what inspired my elevator pitch for the book (when my wife asked what it was like):

"It's like Jane Austin or Charles Dickens writing a Neil Gaiman book about English magicians."

As others have opined, the style is deliberately (and so far, convincingly) Victorian. Lots of subtle characters who hide their feelings motivations from each other; lots of characters, period (I've almost had to start taking notes when minor characters from Chapter 1 show up 150 pages later); no sex, violence, or profanity (so far, I think, one "D---"); and many footnotes (some which run 80% of the page for 4 pages!).

Read it before you comment (2, Interesting)

fjvanniekerk (89341) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344272)

This book is good and is worth the money. You will not need to re-read it in two years when you need the space on your wall. The advertising budget is very large for this book and the reviewer should state his allegiances as I suspect some viral advertising.

Extract from Economist "Bloomsbury is now launching it with its biggest ever marketing budget for a single book."

in progress... (4, Interesting)

tgibbs (83782) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344575)

I'm not yet halfway, so this is not yet a review.

I'm definitely hooked. It was quite slow in starting, and very mannered in style, but the sly humor kept me reading. Many of the "scholarly" footnotes are wonderful little fantasy vignettes. For a book about magic, there is a great deal of people talking about magic and very little of them doing it. But the magical scenes, when they occur, are quite satisfyingly magical.

You seem to be setting a high standard (2, Interesting)

gonerill (139660) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344616)

I can think of few writers Clarke's work more clearly resembles than Jane Austen. ... Susanna Clarke does have some great books in her. But for the time being, with this, her first novel, we'll have to settle for simply "good."

So what you're saying is, to merit a grade of, say, "very good" from you I'd have to write better than Jane Austen?

Re:You seem to be setting a high standard (1)

curtlewis (662976) | more than 9 years ago | (#10345054)

No, he's not saying that. It was a stylistic comparison not a qualitative one.

Re:You seem to be setting a high standard (1)

jmweeks (49705) | more than 9 years ago | (#10345136)

I didn't compare Clarke's ability to Jane Austen, I compared her style (I also mentioned that this may be intentional).

To get a "very good" from me, this novel would need more emotional weight. I'd have to like the characters more. I'd have to believe the characters more.

To get a "great" from me, on top of that. the novel would have to be structurally more "tight." That is, it lollygags too much in the opening, and it doesn't work up to its climax quite like it should. And many other things...

But the style, the sentence-by-sentence writing, she hid dead on. That's where the Austen thing comes in.

For the Bay Area fans..... (1)

BurningRome (457767) | more than 9 years ago | (#10344728)

I was at Kepler's Bookstore in Menlo Park last night (seeing Louis de Bernieres read) and there was a big poster advertising Clarke reading there TONIGHT (Friday 24th). I think at 730PM - check here http://keplers.booksense.com/NASApp/store/IndexJsp / [booksense.com] Haven't read the book but I've read generally good reviews of it....too bad both the aforementioned de Bernieres has a thick new novel out, as does /. fave Neal Stephenson......
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