I’ve reached page 1006, finished the story and closed the book. I’m left with that slight feeling of loss I always get at the end of a long novel I’ve been engrossed in. My top ten summer reads list from earlier in the year’s a mix of historic novels and science fantasy, so imagine my delight at discovering this book, which is a cross of the two genres.
Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrel is set in the early 19th century, in the period of the Napoleonic wars (or the Sharpe period for historic novel readers). It’s a massive epic that beautifully describes the ‘rebirth of modern magic’ in England (England as you will know has a long and auspicious history of magic, ever since the Raven King’s reign as King of Northern England from the 11th to 14th century).
And that’s what makes the book so good: the mix of fiction and fact, the normalising of magic into a historic content. You hardly realise there’s anything odd when you discover some of the pervasive nastiness of some faery magic.
The book started rather slowly (the first 200 pages or so) and didn’t really get enjoyable until the advent of Mr Strange (one of the two eponymous magicians). After that you get dragged into the narrative, and by the end it was unputdownable.
So if you’ve a decent chunk of time to be able to read this mammoth book in a couple of weeks, then go for it.
It’s a good read, but doesn’t quite make my top ten