“The year is 1806 and centuries have passed since practical magicians faded into the nation’s past. But scholars of this glorious history discover that one remains: the reclusive Mr Norrell, whose displays of magic send a thrill through the country.” (Amazon)
The setting for the novel is England as we know it, 1806 to 1817, mad King George III is on the throne, Lord Liverpool is the Prime Minister and The Duke of Wellington is pursuing Napoleon Bonaparte across Spain in the Peninsular War then into France and Belgium. So all is “normal” except for one thing …….. the practice of magic, which existed previously in England before disappearing a few hundred years ago. But it is returning!
Susanna Clarke has written a tale in the style of Charles Dickens or Jane Austen, over 800 pages long and 32 hours duration in Audible format which I chose in this case. Mr Norrell is a virtual recluse living with a couple of servants and is the only surviving practical magician. He has an extensive library of books on magic and is doing his utmost to buy and retain every book ever written on the subject to prevent other “theoretical magicians” gaining uncontrolled access.
In order to tighten his control he decides to accept a pupil/student, Jonathan Strange, who he can mould in his own way and ultimately control to safeguard the correct practice of magic without descent into “the dark side”. It is the relationship between these two characters that is the main theme of the book and needless to say Jonathan dabbles in all kinds of magic, especially helping the Duke of Wellington to defeat Napoleon Bonaparte. But as a result of this dabbling two women are enchanted by the supposedly long dead Faery King, John Uskglas, also known as The Raven King, one of whom is Strange’s wife Arabella. And so the main plot unfurls which is the determination of Mr Strange to “take on” the Faery King and return these two women back to their own time and place, but it will involve many spells and aspects of Dark Magic which Mr Norrell opposes.
This was a very long book with lots of sub plots and movements between groups of characters, places and situations. One moment you’re with Strange at Waterloo, then with Norrell in London, then with others in Yorkshire. It’s a challenge, but definitely worth having the Audible version as I did …… my concentration isn’t what it used to be! If you like Dickens, Austen or Gothic novels this is for you.