Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.
I first read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell in 2004 and loved its imaginative, immersive story so much it became a standard I judged other books by, but recently I wondered if, all these years later, it could still measure up to the high esteem I had for it in my mind. The answer is unreservedly, “Yes!” With Jane Austen-like characters and Austen-esque humor set in an epic alternate history of Regency England as it’s experiencing an exciting but unsettling re-emergence of magic, Strange/Norrell reminds me of Robert Frost’s snowy woods: lovely, dark and deep.
When the book opens there are magicians in England, but they are only theoretical, which means they study magic and its history but no longer know how to practice it themselves. That changes with the unlikely partnership of Mr. Norrell, a cautious man who’s made an extensive study of magical literature, and his student Jonathan Strange, who has a bold, intuitive knack for piecing together magical spells. A full, rich range of Regency society peoples the book and Wellington, Byron, and poor mad King George III are among its historical characters.
The back-story reaches as far into the past as the days of William the Conqueror and is told mainly through wonderfully detailed footnotes, many of them stories in themselves, that treat the text as history. When it first came out Strange/Norrell was touted as a Harry Potter for grown ups, but it’s as least as closely related to Jane Austen I think, though that’s just a partial description. The story is much longer and in parts more foreboding than anything by Austen and romance is not its focus, but Jonathan Strange and his wife Arabella definitely resemble Darcy and Lizzy of Pride and Prejudice, while paranoid, pompous Mr. Norrell is similar to several of Austen’s fusty older men. BBC has an upcoming miniseries of the book and I can’t wait to see what they do with it.