The perfect mix of historical fiction, fantasy, and Austen-esque social humor, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell crafts a mythology worthy of any high fantasy work. Written in the style of a history (including extensive footnotes that are just as essential to the story as the main narrative is), Clarke retells the story of late 18th-century England, centering on theNapoleonic Wars. Clarke’s Britain is a place without magic. Where once magicians mingled with fairies and crafted wonders, now there are only dodgy old men discussing the finer points of magical theory, without the hope of ever practicing it.
This all changes when the Learned Society of York Magicians discovers one Mr. Norrell, a bookish recluse who claims to be the last practicing magician in England. He proves his ability to the skeptical scholars in one of the most memorable magical scenes sinceHarry Potter’s introduction to Hogwarts: by bidding the statues in a cathedral to speak. A newly minted celebrity, Norrell moves to London where he hobnobs with high society and assists the government in its war against Napoleon. His position is threatened, however, by the rise of a talented new magician named Jonathan Strange, who becomes Norrell’s pupil and later his greatest rival.
Spanning 800-odd pages, Jonathan Strange is a triumph of story-telling and world-building. Featuring a cast of characters that includes a sinister fairy, clever ladies, and a servant who would be king, as well as the Duke of Wellington himself, this book is a must-read for fans of historical fiction and high fantasy alike.