Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke What can I possibly say that will convey to you the depth of my love for this book? In all honesty, I really cannot find the right words, but I will write this anyway.

I read this monstrous doorstop of a book a little over a year ago, and I remember very little of anything else from that time; I was immersed within the first few pages, and only returned to reality when it was unavoidable. I read it at work, I read it while eating, I read it while very nearly sleeping. I read it in a box, I read it with a fox, I read it wearing socks….the point is, it was almost impossible for me to set it down for more than five minutes. It wasn’t the over-arching plot that grabbed my attention so much as the little details, the off-kilter but believable alter-England of the story, that held me hostage for a wonderful week. It does not surprise me that it took Susanna Clarke ten years to create the intricate web of plot, character and history that makes this story so engrossing.

Basically, in an alternate English history, magic once existed in the world but has been relegated to the realm of academia by the 19th century. However, a few magicians still practice the ancient arts and these practitioners have been employed by Parliament to fight in the name of England. Said magicians, the titular Strange and Norrell , are two very different men with opposing motivations who come together for the sake of a common cause, but find themselves unable to remain a team for long. Interwoven into the fabric of the story is the history of the Raven King, a legendary and mysterious figure that obsesses Jonathan Strange and informs much of the lore that has kept magic alive in the hearts of scholars. It is also important to note that in this realm of Clarke’s creation, the world of Faerie runs parallel to the world of men, and Strange and Norrell face a much greater threat than the French when the troublesome creatures of that world begin interfering in their own.

One of the key aspects that makes this book so fantastic is the fact Clarke doesn’t merely rely on the occasional reference to frock coats and carriages to create a Georgian world; this story reads like a 19th century British novel, with its focus on subplots, multiple characters and convoluted motivations. It combines the homely humor of Dickens, the wry behavioral observations of Austen, a bit of Wilkie Collins mystery and some George MacDonald fantasy thrown in for good measure. And yet, while it is strongly rooted in 19th century novelistic tradition, it has an altogether different, dreamy quality when the creatures of Faerie are involved. Gradual shifts from the muck-laden streets of London to the otherworldly realm of Faerie occur quite frequently, but Clarke manages to make these transitions both subtle and abrupt simultaneously, so the two seem to bleed into each other and create a believable symbiosis of magic and mundane. In this vein, Clarke has not only constructed two believable worlds, but she has imbued them with so much history that she has included footnotes to outline them even further. I know what you are thinking: footnotes? Fictional footnotes?? Isn’t that tedious? No. No it is not.

(To be continued, probably)