I remember quite vividly the first time I read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. At the age of fourteen, I was making my first forays into the adult fantasy realm, when what should fall into my lap than one of the year’s most anticipated books, set in an alternate England filled with magic? I was immediately drawn into Susanna Clarke’s world, and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell soon wormed its way into my heart and settled there.
Perhaps you’re like me, and you picked the book up more than a decade ago and have remained haunted by the phantom tolling of bells ever since. Or perhaps your introduction to the world is more recent, courtesy of the recent BBC adaptation that has brought the story to life on screen. Whether you’re new to all things Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell or you’re a veteran reader, if you’ve devoured the novel and ploughed through the companion short story collection, The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, then like us you’re probably looking for more stories of nineteenth-century manners and trickster faeries. We’ve got you covered with our suggestions below.
In case you need a wee refresher:
At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England’s history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England–until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.
Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear
(summary from GoodReads)
Allison’s Recommendation: A Natural History of Dragons
If I had to put Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell into a “genre” I’d say historical fantasy, with an alternate timeline. There aren’t many books out there that are “like” it (that I’ve read anyway!). However, if you’re looking for something with a similar tone and feel, I think A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan might work for you. Like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, A Natural History of Dragons is fantasy, but the fantastical elements (namely the dragons) aren’t super flashy. While A Natural History of Dragons isn’t technically set in Victorian England, Brennan’s Scirland is a good approximation of what you might imagine Victorian Europe seeming like if dragons were afoot, so for me it acted a lot like an “alternate history.” Brennan is a self-proclaimed “ex-academic” and her reimagining of European history is a good follow-up to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Plus, there’s sequels!
Nicola’s Recommendation: The Falconer
If you thought the only thing Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was missing was some kick-ass women, The Falconer is your book. Set in mid-19th-century Edinburgh, it has a more steampunk feel than Jonathan Strange, but, like Susanna Clarke, Elizabeth May weaves an alternate history where gothic faeries and real-world politics collide. Lady Aileana Kameron has the rare ability to see faeries, meaning she is the only person who saw what really killed her mother a year ago, and she is determined to avenge her mother’s death, but life, of course, is not so simple as that.
Until next time!