Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Our rating: ****½

There has not been a practical magician in England for several hundred years. So the people are astonished when Mr. Norrell, a small, quiet gentleman who has been studying the subject for much of his life, proves that he is, in fact, the next great magician. More than that, he intends to restore magic to England and even aid the country in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte.
In the midst of this rises a second magician, the young and dauntless Jonathan Strange. Strange has an uncanny knack for magic, and despite some rather grave differences of opinion between the two of them, Mr. Norrell takes him on as a pupil. Perhaps their most serious disagreements are about the Raven King, a mysterious figure in history who was responsible for much of the magical foundation. As time goes on, Strange becomes more and more intrigued with the Raven King and the more perilous forms of magic, risking not only his partnership with Norrell but everything that he holds dear.

If I do not restrain myself, I’m going to gush about this book. Problem is, if I force myself to slow down, I’m left speechless. This novel is 782 pages long, and I was enthralled to the very last one. It is incredible. The writing style itself is so beautifully similar to that of Jane Austen and other writers of that period, I could scarcely believe this was such a recent publication (2004). It is intricate, delightful, terrifying, and captivating. I have never come across anything quite like it. The antagonist alone was one of the most uniquely and well-done characters I’ve read. Everything is brilliant, right down to the use of footnotes to enhance the story and add to the seeming reality.
Now, all that to say… I don’t feel that I can go about recommending Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell to everyone. My one single—but substantial—reservation about this book is the heavy involvement of magic. I do not mind magical things in fantasy realms, but this particular story grounds magic firmly in reality, in Europe, in the 1800s. Given that Susanna Clarke is not a Christian author, it creates some gnarly situations. So, is this book for you? I cannot say. You will have to do your own research and choose for yourself.