Review From User :
Without a doubt the best book I have read this year. I write that without hesitation and with a beaming smile on my face. Incredible. Enthralling. Amazing. The book was over 800 pages long and it did not seem long enough. When I finished the book, I immediately turned out the light and tried to drift off to sleep, because I knew nothing else I did that night was going to top the feeling I got after blowing through the last 100 pages like a madwoman. I want to start it over again, immediately.
The book is like reading Dickens, with the dialogue of Jane Austen, and the best writing of every classic fantasy I've read. All at once. Clarke manages to pay her homage while being entirely original herself. And the pages just keep turning and turning. You almost don't notice as 200 pages go by in less than two hours. This is a book to devour. Again, and again, and again. For those who have never been interested in the fantasy genre before, do not be put off. It's not even about the fantasy, though of course it is a major presence and the plot focuses around it. History geeks: There are three delightful, hilarious appearances by Wellington, George III and Lord Byron, as well as various Cabinet ministers of the time period.
The prose is wonderful, dead-on. Clarke has the ability to shift seamlessly from witty, sarcastic, detached prose and dialogue in the style of Jane Austen or Oscar Wilde:
"These ladies and gentlemen, visitors to the city of Venice, were excessively pleased with the Campo Santa Maria Formosa. They thought the facades of the houses very magnificent- they could not praise them highly enough. But the sad decay which buildings, bridges and church all displayed seemed to charm them even more. They were Englishmen and, to them, the decline of other nations was the most natural thing in the world. They belonged to a race so blessed with so sensitive an appreciation of its own talents (and so doubtful an opinion of any body else's) that they would not have been at all surprised to learn that the Venetians themselves had been entirely ignorant of the merits of their own city- until Englishmen had come to tell them it was delightful."
... and then shift into lines that would do any fantasy author proud: "Spring returned to England. Birds followed ploughs. Stones were warmed by the sun. Rains and winds grew softer, and were fragranced by the scents of the earth and growing things. Woods were tinged with a colour so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a colour at all. It was more the /idea/ of a colour- as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts."
Those quotes don't do it justice, they were just ones my eyes came across when I randomly opened pages. The writing is just beyond fantastic, to say the least.
That, on top of an intriguing, well developed, /incredibly/ well researched portrait of England at the time of the Napoleonic wars It manages to cover all the major areas that British literature is known for, all at once, in one book, and do them all justice. Clarke is also able to touch on a lot of serious issues that were present in England at the time: (racial relations, the problems of a hereditary ruling class..) She makes you aware of them as a background, but doesn't push them in your face. It's just another way she's able to make her evocation of the time period that much more perfect.
... I should perhaps have written this review with a greater distance from finishing the novel. But I think I'm justified in doing it now, if only to give an idea of the kind of amazing feeling that the book gives you from reading it and finishing it.
Books like this are why I love literature.
Read it. End of story.
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.