This book is way too long and multi-plotted for me to try to describe on my own. I’d paste in the Goodreads synopsis, but that’s also extraordinarily long, so instead, if you don’t really know what this book is about, you can check it out at that link. Generally, it’s about the restoration of English magic, the rivalry of two magicians, and the ways in which English magic can affect (both good and bad) the people of England. And it’s built on the mythology of the Raven King, which is kinda cool, considering that my favorite series of 2014 was also built on that same mythology. I like the symmetry.
So I have an interesting story to tell about this book:
Back when Ms. Manda first started blogging, she got involved with a group called Fill in the Gaps. She doesn’t believe the group is still running, but the basic premise was a personal reading challenge with no end date or deadline. You chose 100 books you felt you needed to read, and then as you read them – over as many years as you pleased – you marked them off. Ms. Manda had seen Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (hereafter known as JS&MN) all over the place. A bedrock of modern fantasy, on all of those “must read” lists. She had this vague notion that she needed to read it, despite not knowing one thing about the book. So she put it on her Gaps list.
In the summer of 2009, she found this book at her local used bookstore and bought it. The size was intimidating, and the cover art didn’t really do anything for her. [Seriously. Look at it.] When she tried to read it, she found the text dull from the very first word. She didn’t get very far. Like, maybe only a few paragraphs. Sadly, she decided the book was not for her, and re-donated it to the used bookstore.
[Okay. So this story isn’t interesting yet. I know. Bear with me.]
Fast forward a little over four years, to the fall of 2014. Ms. Manda goes walking around the audiobook section of her local library and chooses a bunch of potential listening materials. On a whim, she picks out JS&MN. It has stuck in the back of her mind as one of those books always on the “must read” lists, and she figures, hey, she’s always been more tolerant of books in audio format. Besides, in the four-plus years since she first tried to read this, she’s grown to really enjoy fantasy. Plus, she’s heard great things about the narrator, Simon Prebble. Might as well give it a chance!
Now, this audiobook is 26 disks long. There is no way Ms. Manda is going to upload all 26 disks only to give up on the audiobook in the first five minutes. So she’s smart. She uploads one disk, and previews it. And this time, she’s hooked from the very first sentence. This time, she devours the book and loves every single minute of it. This time, she wants to acquire a physical copy, in spite of the dull cover art, because she’s heard there are illustrations inside, and that would make the entire experience even more complete.
Okay. I’m done telling stories. Honestly, I don’t know what happened between 2009 and 2014. I don’t know if I was just ready this time, or if it was the audio format (Simon Prebble was fantastic), or if my reading tastes have just changed a ton, or if the book was far less intimidating now that I’m no longer crossing it off an arbitrary list. Probably a combination of all those things. One way or another, I enjoyed every single word of this audiobook, and loved all the weeks I spent listening to its 32+ hours. That really doesn’t tell you anything about the book itself, but I don’t know that I could really tell you about the book itself. It’s more than a story. It’s an experience, one totally worth having!
PS – I am so looking forward to the upcoming BBC mini-series!
Maybe I need to revisit because while I loved her short story collection, this book just didn’t work for me. And it should have and has made me sad that it didn’t.
Sometimes I think it’s all about timing. I hope you do end up enjoying it if you revisit!
I loved this novel. I think I read it in 2008 or so. I really loved the footnotes, how did they handle the footnotes in the audio version?
Whenever there was a footnote, Prebble would interrupt the narrative and say “Footnote” or “Footnote one” (depending on the chapter), then read the footnote, then return to the text. He read them in a slightly different voice, so it was always obvious when he returned, and if there were footnotes in the middle of a sentence, he would stop exactly where they were at. It was quite amusing when there were several footnotes about various stories all attached to the same sentence, as in when they listed a series of magicians and the footnotes briefly gave each magician’s story. 😀
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That’s interesting! I had the same experience when I tried to read the paperback several years ago. Can’t remember if it was on my fill in the gaps list or not. I read a couple pages and thought it was dull and uninteresting. I dropped it and have never picked it back up. Haven’t culled it from the shelf yet, so maybe I’ll try again.
What’s the Raven King series you mention?
The Raven King is classic Welsh mythology. I’d actually never heard of him until reading the Raven Cycle this past fall, so it’s interesting that I should come across two sets of books discussing him in less than six months!
This book has been on my shelves for years. Many, many years. Perhaps I should get the audio version too!!
It’s really worth it. *Loved* the audio!
I remember LOVING the audio of this. I might have listened pre-blogging (can’t remember that part)
It is sooooo good!
It has happened to me before, having to try a book more than once before really getting into it. Considering the length, I’m glad to hear this one worked for you! We’ve had it on our shelves for some years, but I’m still scared by its many pages!
I hope when you do get to it that it’s as pleasant for you as it was for me!
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