Epic fantasy in a classic style
At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England’s history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England-until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.
Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.
Why I chose this book
This book appeared on a list of best fantasy books at bestfantasybooks.com, which is a great website to check out if you are looking for something new to read in any fantasy genre.
Overall, I give this 4 out of 5 stars.
Despite my overall rating, the book as a whole was a mixed bag. Imagine if Charles Dickens decided he wanted to write epic fantasy – this book is exactly what the result would have looked like. It’s an epic set in the early 1800s, based on alternate history. It’s got a feel of magical realism to it, because of the heavy historical basis and the way the magic and magical history slots neatly into the narrative.
The book follows the story of two magicians in their attempt to restore practical magic to England. There is a heavy fae presence throughout the novel, with the plot focusing on how the Raven King (King of the Fae) used to rule over northern England. The plot is meandering and seems to divert from purpose at times, but does have a definite theme which becomes clearer the further you get into the novel.
The worldbuilding and historical basis for the novel are intricate and complete. It’s very immersive and feels like the author has created a whole world which makes sense and draws the reader in.
As I got into the second part of the book, I began to see where the plot was leading and felt compelled to continue reading. All the many plot strands became relevant and everything tied together neatly at the end.
Mr Strange and Mr Norrell were well-drawn characters, as were the secondary characters, and the rise and fall of their relationship was well portrayed.
This was a very slow read. It’s like reading a Dickens. The author even chose to use historical spellings for some words, so I didn’t really feel like I was reading a modern book (for example, ‘chuse’ and ‘shew’).
The plot wasn’t obvious at first and it took quite a while for everything to pull together. In terms of the overall star rating, at first I was inclined to give it a three, but then I enjoyed it a lot more as I kept going. However, I don’t think the style of the book encourages the reader to continue, because there isn’t much payoff up front, and the characters, whilst well-drawn, aren’t terribly likeable.
If you can get through a Dickens, and if you like epic fantasy, then give this a go – you’ll probably enjoy it. Otherwise, I’d steer well clear!
It’s the kind of book that I’m glad I read, but now I’m glad I’ve finished.