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Worlds Without End Blog

WoGF Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke Posted at 5:30 PM by Alix Heintzman


WWEnd Women of Genre Fiction Reading ChallengeAlix Heintzman (alixheintzman) recently earned herself a graduate degree in history from the University of Vermont, and has circled back to her Old Kentucky Home with her partner Nick Stiner. She spends her time semi-desperately repairing the abandoned house they just bought, writing history high school curriculum, and reading fantasy books. She reviews books on her blog, The Other Side of the Rain, and is a staff reviewer at Fantasy Literature.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. NorrellHowever Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell has been described to you—Jane Austen mixed with Harry Potter, or Dickens dusted with Phillip Pullman—it isn’t any of those things, because it isn’t like anything else. Jonathan Strange is a beautifully-wrought story filled with half-remembered fairy tales and shadowy woods and madness. It is one of my very favorite fantasy novels. It is also one of the most brilliant historical novels I have ever read.

“Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians. They met upon the third Wednesday of every month and read each other long, dull papers upon the history of English magic,” (1).

In the first two sentences, we are introduced to the two major premises of the book: That the English past had magic, but its present does not. Under the rule of the Raven King, the Middle Ages were a time of powerful magicians and unruly faeries. But the Raven King abandoned England, and magic slowly seeped away from the country. By 1806, magicians are old men in wigs who study magical history and debate the theoretical application of spells (the books magicians study, like Lanchester’s Treatise concerning the Language of Birds or Strange’s The History and Practice of English Magic, are endearingly described in footnotes throughout Jonathan Strange).

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WoGF Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke Posted at 7:54 PM by Alexandra P.


WWEnd Women of Genre Fiction Reading ChallengeAlexandra P. (everythinginstatic) was first introduced to sci-fi by her father, at the age of 14. Although it took 3 years and 2 attempts to finish Foundation, she hasn’t stopped reading sci-fi since, branching out into fantasy and speculative fiction as well. Her biggest passions are reading, tea and photography, and she hopes that 2013 will be the year she finally revisits Hari Seldon. You can read more of her reviews on her blog Wanderlust.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. NorrellWhen I first started Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, I was worried. It’s a pretty big book, you know? I might not like it. After all, my last run in with rival magicians (namely, The Night Circus) went down terribly! And yet, I started this novel (with some trepidation), and the next thing I knew, I was neck deep in magic, Regency England, the Napoleonic Wars and Mad King George III. And it never once felt boring, or like it dragged on without any resolution. There was never a part where I genuinely felt the 1,006 pages weighing heavily on me.

From the library at Hurtfew to Venice, over the King’s Roads and through mirrors, this story of the revival of English magic never pauses to preach or pass judgement. The main characters, Strange and Norrell, are complete opposites: one is an extrovert, constantly striving to make magic practical, while the other is an introvert, for whom magic is the study of spells, not the senseless dive into the unknown. Naturally, the two views collide, and a rivalry of sorts develops.


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Book Gift Suggestions: Fantasy Posted at 12:36 PM by Jonathan McDonald


We’ve all had those friends and family members who just don’t “get” genre fiction–who think that Fantasy is all about Hogwarts or football, who think that Science Fiction is no more than J.J. Abram’s oeuvre, who think that Horror is just a zombie in a hockey mask slicing up co-eds. You can either continue to inwardly seethe at these ignoramuses, or man up and buy them some fiction that will blow their minds and make them addicts just like you. To that end, we at Worlds Without End have put our heads together to come up with a list of books for the genre-clueless people in your life.

Today’s list contains half a dozen Fantasy books or franchises to knock the socks off the people who don’t have good genre taste… yet.

Storm FrontThe Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher

Butcher’s series about the self-deprecating wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden serves as a great introduction to the Urban Fantasy subgenre. Nearly every fantasy trope ends up on Harry’s to-do list at some point: vampires, warlocks, werewolves, faeries, ghosts, demons, archangels, and even the Shroud of Turin. The stories are frequently funny and always fast-paced, which makes the failure of its small-screen adaptation all the more perplexing.

Perfect For: Readers of thrillers and mystery novels.

First books in this series:

  1. Storm,, Kindle, Audible
  2. Fool,, Kindle, Audible
  3. Grave,, Kindle, Audible
  4. Summer,, Kindle, Audible
  5. Death,, Kindle, Audible

The Name of the WindThe Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss

Some have described this series as Harry Potter for grownups. That’s a trite way of interpreting Rothfuss’ story about a polymath ne’er do well trying to survive through a school that focuses on alchemy and magical theory. It’s a lot smarter than the premise makes it sound. Rothfuss is well-educated himself, and he claims to have spent the better part of a decade writing and rewriting the first novel. This actually turns out to be a good thing.

Perfect For: The over-educated smartasses in your life.

First books in this series:

  1. The Name of the,, Kindle, Audible
  2. The Wise Man’s,, Kindle, Audible

The GunslingerThe Dark Tower, by Stephen King

As far as I know, this series is King’s longest foray into Fantasy. Despite being only seven novels long (with an eighth “midquel” just published), it took King twenty-two years to complete the whole thing, publishing the last three in a great burst from 2003-4. Alternatively a magical realist action-adventure story and a running metafictional commentary, King considers this to be his magnum opus, and it has been a hit with his fans.

Perfect For: Lovers of complex and referential storytelling.

First books in this series:

  1. The,, Kindle, Audible
  2. The Drawing of the,, Kindle, Audible
  3. The Waste,, Kindle, Audible
  4. Wizard and,, Kindle, Audible
  5. Wolves of the,, Kindle, Audible

Jonathan Strange & Mr. NorrellJonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

This 800-page doorstopper is an alternative history of England during the time of the Napoleonic Wars if magic had been a real historical phenomenon. The novel is written as a faux-history text, and I have to admit that Clarke even had me fooled into thinking that many of the references to pagan and medieval magic traditions were taken from the real world. It’s a love story mingled with the methodical restoration of magical practice, and all of its societal implications.

Perfect For: Admirers of alternate history, world-building, and the Romantic literary movement.

The Once and Future KingThe Once and Future King, by T.H. White

The four-book series (and a fifth posthumous volume) on the life and adventures of King Arthur’s royal court was a big hit when the first volume was published way back in 1938. This is not a thorough retelling of the Arthurian body of legends, but rather a selection of episodes (mostly well-known from Malory) that allow White to focus on the themes of war and morality that, being and Englishman writing during World War II, were heavy on his mind. The whimsical idea that Merlin is a backwards traveler through time has its origins here, and the Disney film The Sword in the Stone is a loose adaptation of White’s first volume of the same name.

Perfect For: Anyone who likes the show Merlin but wishes it were a bit smarter.

GrendelGrendel, by John Gardner

Gardner as a novelist has nearly disappeared from the American literary scene, despite once having multiple novels on the bestseller lists. Even though he’s now appreciated almost entirely for his books about writing, Grendel has remained a perennial favorite. Telling the story of Beowulf from the monster’s point of view gives Gardner the opportunity to dramatically explore (as he claims) the darker aspects of Jean-Paul Sartre’s existential philosophy. The novel also incorporates many of the postmodern conceits popular at the time, and despite its serious subject is laced with humor and irony.

Perfect For: Someone who read Wicked but thought the witch was the villain.