I chose this book for the prompt a book set in a country that fascinates me. It is set in England in the early 1800s, but it is an alternative history, one where magic is real. While it is true, I am fascinated by England, there are other countries I probably find more fascinating. Places like India, Israel or Zimbabwe. But I was determined to read this book this year, so I needed to find a place for it on my 2018 Reading Challenge list, so I put it here.
This is the story of two magicians – Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – trying to bring magic back to England after several centuries. Magic has all but passed into the realm of lore. At first glance, this book is about the often volatile relationship between these two magicians. However, this conflict is really the framework on which Clarke hangs a larger plot.
I don’t quite know what to say about this book. It is very long – more than 800 pages. It is slow and meandering. I saw one reviewer that said it “reads like molasses,” and that is an apt description. I spent a good part of this book not quite sure if I liked it. I could never quite decide I didn’t like it, however, so I kept reading.
This book is written a bit more like a history than a novel, complete with footnotes. There are places where excerpts from magical texts are inserted into the narrative. The story wanders off into seemingly random directions. But Clarke ultimately brings all the threads together and manages to finish this huge tome in a beautiful way.
If you have the stamina for it, it is worth the read. It may be huge and slow, but there’s enough action and interesting mystery to keep reading. I needed to find out how all the pieces came together. This is an ambitious book that in the end, I decided I really did enjoy.