If you like this, you might like: American Gods, by Neil Gaiman (another epic fantasy novel set in the real world, with similar moments of power and tension) Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (a fantasy mystery set in London, following the cases of a supernatural police force) The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett (especially The Watch books – Guards Guards!, Men at Arms and Feet of Clay – brilliant, fun, silly, mysterious fantasy detective books).
Genre: Fantasy / Alternative History
Reviewer: Mr Adderley
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Suzanna Clarke (2004)
Plot: The story takes place in an alternative version of England in the early 19th century, during the Napoleonic Wars. In this England, magic and magicians are real… or rather, they were real. No one has managed to perform any real or ‘practical magic’ for hundreds of years. That is, until a quiet, secretive and rather awkward gentleman called Mr Norrell reveals himself in Yorkshire, and announces the ‘return of English Magic’ to the world. It isn’t long before Mr Norrell works his way and his magic into the power and politics of Georgian London.
However, there are rumours of another magician working in England; Johnathan Strange. It seems the two men have a shared destiny. The question is, will they be friends… or enemies?
Positives: Suzanna Clarke creates a rich, unique world in this book. She gives the world of Wellington and Lord Byron a mythical, magical twist – like Charles Dickens meets Harry Potter. Reading it, you just want to find out more about the history of the world and its magical roots. The characters are also very absorbing, especially Strange and Norrell, who you really come to care about, and the book’s mysterious villain, who is really menacing. Suzanna Clarke keeps you guessing and only reveals the truth slowly, so you are constantly hungry for the next chapter. A very imaginative page-turner.
Negatives: That said, the plot is very slow. The book is 800 pages long, and probably doesn’t need to be. While sometimes Clarke manages to draw out the tension and keep the reader guessing, there are some chapters where not much happens and that can get frustrating, especially towards the end when you frankly just want things to wrap themselves up. Also, some of the side-characters feel a little flimsy compared to the main ones. The writing evokes the style of Dickens, but frankly Clarke’s prose falls a little way short of that. No shame there.