Saturday, May 30, 2015

Dueling Magicians, or What to Read while You’re Waiting for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

If you’re anything like me, you might be inclined to skepticism towards movie adaptations of your favourite novels. For every stellar Gone Girl, there’s a “what were they thinking?” Winter’s Tale. When it comes to putting fiction on screen, there are only two words guaranteed to have me drooling in anticipation: BBC miniseries. I have been chomping at the bit to see the 7-part adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s 2004 bestseller Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell ever since the project was first announced in 2012. The series is currently airing in the UK and is expected to premiere in Canada and the US next month. If you need a few great books to tide you over until then, might I suggest the following:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

If you haven’t yet read Clarke’s Hugo Award-winning epic, there has never been a better time to do so. Described by me to my mom as “what would happen if Jane Austen wrote fantasy,” the novel follows the careers of the two titular magicians set against the background of the Napoleonic Wars. Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange begin a mentor/mentee relationship that soon bellows out into a bitter rivalry, as their respective values diverge. Witty, original, and occasionally philosophical, I’d recommend this book to those who like well-written fantasy novels, lovers of magic realism, or anyone who wonders if the Classics might not be improved with the appearance of a magician or two.

The Night Circus

Erin Morgenstern’s 2011 debut is a perfect union of form and content. The book is a mysterious wonder, the plot a feat of acrobatic art. Celia and Marco, two children with strong magical abilities, are drafted into a lifelong duel to the death, of which neither knows the rules. The circus begins as a battlefield and evolves into a labour of love, as gradually the object of the game becomes not to win but to keep on playing. This is a book you can live inside. I wanted to read it forever, to just stand inside and smell the air, and let all of its marvels blissfully swirl around me. This is magic realism at its finest, and fans of mystery, romance, and fantasy will all find something here for their tastes.

The Prestige

If you’re familiar with The Prestige, more than likely you’ve seen or heard of the excellent 2006 Christopher Nolan adaptation, starring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, and Scarlett Johansson. Lesser known is the 1996 Christopher Priest novel that inspired the film. After an act goes tragically wrong, Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier, two former friends, become committed rivals. Borden throws himself into magic, harboring a closely-guarded secret that forms the key to his success. Angier, on the other hand, seeks to destroy Borden, searching for magical success by pursuing the newest frontiers of science. Winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the World Fantasy Award, The Prestige meditates on the destructive nature of obsession, with twists that will keep readers guessing until the final bow.

by Amy P.


  1. You had me at "What would happen if Jane Austen wrote fantasy". I also loved The Night Circus and would enjoy reading something similar again. Further, I have seen the movies Winter's Tale and The Prestige and now think I must pick up the books! Definitely a great post. Thank you,


    1. I just read Winter's Tale last year, and it's amazing--very different than the movie though. I hope you like Jonathan Strange; it's quite long, but I think it's something special.

  2. This line is absolutely correct:

    When it comes to putting fiction on screen, there are only two words guaranteed to have me drooling in anticipation: BBC miniseries.

    I really can't wait for the adaptation of this story!

    Thanks for this post! :)

    1. I know! It's already aired in the UK, and I am so jealous.