Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, is a story of soaked in the tropes, language and culture of early-eighteenth century England, intermingled with a sense of the wild nature of magic and faerie. It is an odd setting, on one hand all fussing gentlemen, elegant ladies, and all manner of social niceties, and on the other hand, beneath it all, lies a reminiscence of English legends like those of Merlin or Nimue, or a deeper heritage drawn from Celtic tales such as the Mabinogion, or the myths and legends of Scotland and Ireland.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is a book of florid prose, heavy with description and littered with footnotes. I found all of this wonderful, the book was written beautifully, and reading it, I felt throughout, an absolute delight in and love of language. Quips and rejoinders were there aplenty, as were witty observations and carefully concealed snide remarks. If you are a fan of speculative fiction, this book is a thoroughly enjoyable read. For the main, the characters, setting and interactions would not be out of place in an Austen novel, but what really separates Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell from other well written period dramas is the magic.

Magic in this book is the sort of magic you can only see if you look sideways, a magic where mirrors are doors and shadows might be leaning the wrong way, a magic where things are not quite as they seem, where words are slippery, and trickery is only surpassed by mystery. It is, in a nutshell, very faerie. This world that Clarke has envisaged, where the working of magic is as carefully employed by our two main protagonists as the early sciences were by their practitioners, is rich and involving. Norrell, the methodical and well learnèd, jealous of his knowledge and careful in his applications, is neatly counterpointed by Strange. Strange is the wilder of the two, willing to take risks, more naturally gifted but less inclined to care and planning, more willing to chase down the mysteries than allow them to reveal themselves through study.

The plot takes us across the English countryside, replete with hidden nooks, secret clearings, barrows and burghs rich in faerie, to Spain for the Peninsula War, Venice, and a number of other locations. We encounter some of the major events of the period, including the Battle of Waterloo. Against this backdrop is the continual struggle between Norrell and Strange, both great admirers of one another and haters too in measure, both opposite faces of the same coin, drawn to each other and yet pulling in different directions. Both also facing the same dire threat, a component of the magic that helped Norrell first rise to prominence, fickle and perilous, careless and uncaring and yet deeply moved by the things that catch its attention. This key foe is childlike with tremendous power, capable of obsessive kindness and also unsettlingly cruel.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is a long book, but it by no means felt it. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, and the many footnotes that were aptly used to help give flesh and life to the setting. It’s a book that has long intrigued me, and I read it recently on recommendation, and immediately regretting not having read it sooner. All in all Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is excellent reading.

A Map…

I posted previously about how nice it is to see your writing all laid out, surrounded by nice graphics and looking good. One thing that I have enjoyed a lot, once the draft has been approved, everything laid out and the book shipped off to print, is seeing the maps and artwork that accompany and give life to the book. I have written or worked on a number of adventures for the Infinity Role Playing game, and for each of these I have submitted the word document, and a number of relevant hand drawn maps – scribbles on paper really. The adventure in the Infinity GMs Guide, E Pluribus Unem, is one I wrote, and I thought it might be interesting to post a picture of the map I drew compared to the finished product from a professional.

Infinity has a distinctive visual style that matches its futuristic setting, and the maps the cartographers, N. R. Bharathae and Richard Gale, have made for this book are really nice. They reflect the setting well, and it’s fun to think back to my playtest sessions and remember how they started as rough drawings on a white board for my players to knock about in, to sketches in my note pad to go to Modiphius, through to the final product.

Photo 1-10-18, 11 59 19 pm

Sybaris Church
The cartography in the GM Screen Booklet was done by N. R. Bharathae and Richard Gale.

E Pluribus Unem was a fun adventure to write, it tackles some interesting ideas about a society where death isn’t always the end and the concepts of post-humanism, and it also has plenty of action. I hope the gamers out there who play through this adventure have as much playing it as I did when writing and testing it!

If you’re interested, the Infinity GMs Guide can be found on the Modiphius store here.


Edit: The Adventure booklet comes with the GM Screen, and this is not available on the Modiphius store yet. The other available books in the Infinity line are available here though.