Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke – The author’s debut novel was recommended to me because I liked her Piranesi.This book was much longer and more complicated, but I liked it. It takes place in the early nineteenth century, in a version of England where magic was possible, but hadn’t been practiced in a long time. The writing style is reminiscent of the time period when it takes place, with a lot of commentary on how people thought of being properly English. I’m sure there was a lot of it I didn’t catch. In this version of England, a powerful magician known as John Uskglass, the Raven King, had ruled the northern part of the country for a long time, then disappeared. There are several English gentlemen who study the theoretical workings of magic, but a curmudgeonly man from York named Gilbert Norrell breaks tradition by actually practicing it. He becomes famous after a few demonstrations of his power, and gains some influence over the government. While at first he wants to be the only legally practicing magician in England, he eventually takes an apprentice, the young Jonathan Strange, who distinguishes himself by using magic in the Napoleonic Wars. It’s an episodic tale, but a lot of it is based on the differing characters of Norrell and Strange, and how they work together and eventually split ways. Also figuring into the story are fairies, whose attention Norrell tries to avoid, only calling on them once to bring a woman back to life early in his career. This fairy proceeds to cause a lot of trouble, however, including capturing Strange’s wife. He also befriends the butler Stephen Black, giving him gifts and promising him power, but also holding him in his thrall. The book includes a lot of references and footnotes regarding books of magic, adding verisimilitude to the story. I believe it has been established that Piranesi takes place in the same world, but later in time and mostly in an alternate dimension.
Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting, by Roseanne A. Brown – This author’s first book under the Rick Riordan Presents imprint introduces a world of gods, magic, and monsters from Ghanaian mythology. Serwa and her parents travel around battling vampires and other supernatural threats. When a vampire attacks them at home, her parents decide that it’s best if she stays with her aunt and cousin in Maryland, which also means it’s her first time attending public school. And while she’s there, a body-snatching vampire called an adze appears at school, and Serwa has to train some of her classmates to help hunt it down. Since she doesn’t know what person the adze is possessing, there are some red herrings, most notably a character who’s so terrible that you kind of want her to be the culprit. It ends with Serwa finding out something disturbing about herself and her mother, becoming destructive, and seeking refuge with a former enemy. I assume that the reference early in the book to Anansi being busy with a kid from Chicago is to Tristan Strong, whose series is more about African-American folklore in general.
Donald Duck: Christmas in Duckburg, by Carl Barks – This was technically a Christmas present from Tavie, but I didn’t get it into February, so I guess it was a bit out of season. Only two stories in it are actually Christmas-related, though. The title story, which wasn’t written by Barks but by Bob Gregory, involves Donald and his nephews going to Canada to pick up a hundred-foot-tall Christmas tree for Scrooge to show off after being mocked for his stinginess the previous year. It’s interesting that the plot starts with Donald deciding to mail order all his presents, which is something even more common in the age of the Internet. It also has the Beagle Boys doing what are presumably supposed to be French Canadian accents.
The other is a bizarre tale where Donald accidentally creates a rocket fuel while the nephews are begging him to cook the Christmas turkey, and he ends up cooking it with a rocket.
Other comics have Donald run a moving business, work as a fireman, locate a hidden gold mine that turns out not to be a mine at all, and try to tame a baby coyote. In the fireman one, Daisy dances with Gladstone Gander while Donald is out fighting fires, and Gladstone accidentally starts a fire at her house. But wouldn’t his luck mean something like that wouldn’t happen to him unless it somehow turns out his way in the end? I guess it’s not that important. He’s still selfish, and Daisy kind of is as well in this one.
In another tale, Scrooge discovers and subsequently loses a floating island. The collection ends with three stories scripted by Vic Lockman featuring Grandma Duck, with significant appearances by Scrooge, Gyro Gearloose, and the Big Bad Wolf.
I’m glad you enjoyed Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.