Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Read: 15 July, 2018

Set in the early part of the 19th century, this book does a magnificent job of capturing the narrative style and tone of books from that period. Of course, that means that it’s a bit of a slog – at around 800 pages, this book makes a great door stopper, and the pacing is very slow.

However, I found that listening to it on audiobook was perfect. I got to sit back, relax, and absorb the atmosphere of the period and worldbuilding – which is what most of this book is. There is a rescue/defeat the baddy near the end, but it’s not particularly climactic. For the most part, the book is about creating an alternate 19th century England with plausible magic.

I adored the worldbuilding. Clarke did a really good job of blending magic into the real world world history. Best of all, she did so in such a very British way – with a magic system that draws from both the common fairy stories as well as the more “noble” pursuit of alchemy.

The world felt complex and alive, and the slowness of the narrative gives the reader a change to settle into it. I do, however, recommend the audiobook, as the book is heavy enough to put wrists at risk.

The Dresden Files #10: Small Favor by Jim Butcher

Read: 21 December, 2014

The Summer Court is sending Gruffs (remember the billy goats? Yeah, those gruffs) after Harry, the Winter Court is sending Hobs, and Marcone has been kidnapped. All this results in a rather complicated (and dangerous!) affair that reveals a lot more about the Fallen and the Heaven/Hell conflict.

The last couple books seem to have been setting up the character pasts, with little more than vague hints about the overarching plot. Here, the characters are established and we appear to be moving into the big reveal.

I like Sanya quite a bit, and was glad to see him make an appearance. I also liked getting a bit more backstory about him – particularly with regards to being a black man growing up in Russia.

Fidelacchius finally became important again, as Harry tries to find a new owner for it. (SPOILERS: I was concerned that Dresden was going to end up becoming a Knight, in addition to being a Warden and everything else. It would have just been so Mary Sue-ish. I kept hoping that Murphy would take it up instead, and was very glad when she was chosen. I was even more glad when she refused it, and gave a perfectly character-consistent reason. I’m still hoping that she’ll become the new Knight eventually (particularly given how Fidelacchius seems to match Murphy’s style of sword), but I’m glad that she didn’t just take it up right away. That would have been very un-Murphy.)

Overall, a solid addition to the series and I’m looking forward to reading the next!

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The Dresden Files #4: Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Read: 17 October, 2013

I had been warned that the Dresden Files series took a little while to warm up, and that’s certainly proving to be true. The difference in quality between Summer Knight and Storm Front is quite noticeable. The story is much tighter, the writing is more straightforward, and the characters are more “in character.”

I’ve noticed other differences, too. The “Noir” shtick has relaxed a bit, so Summer Knight relies more on its own atmosphere rather than simply borrowing conventions. The sexism is also much more subtle – Dresden is still powerless not to help a “damsel in distress” and women’s appearance is still described in far more fetishistic terms that men’s (when men’s appearance is described at all), but the women are getting more agency as the series progresses. Murphy, in particular, is changing quite drastically. Though she’s mostly just a convenient side-plot in this novel, her presence is no longer marked by her erratic behaviour.

The plot for Summer Knight returns to the fairies. After finding out about Dresden’s fairy godmother in the last book, and his debt to her, we find out that the debt has been sold to the queen of the winter fairies. Worse yet, Dresden must complete a task for her if he’s ever to get out of his obligation to her and save the wizards from the war he started with the vampire Red Court. Yeah, it’s starting to get a little complicated.

The only complaint I have is one I nearly always have when dealing with the fae – there’s an emphasis on how alien they are, and how incomprehensible their thinking from a human vantage point. And yet, for the purposes of solving a mystery involving them, and for the purposes of interacting with them, they are written in a way that makes their thinking seem perfectly rational and ordinary (albeit their concerns are shifted towards things and territories and matters that are more relevant to them). This leads to a disconnect between the way that they are described and the way that we see them behave. It’s a minor quibble, but I do wish that Butcher would either spend less time going on and on about how alien they are, or spend a little more time actually making them so.

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