There are people here who really loved this book and people who loathe it. I really liked it.
Initially it took some getting used to, like the way your ear adjusts to opera or another language, Clarke's rich narrative was very soothing for me and I loved escaping in it into her story. It started a little slowly, but the promise of "Jane Austen meets Harry Potter" was too much for me to resist. I found it more "Jane Austen attempts to one-up Tolkien with mixed results" but as I said, I am firmly in the "loved it" camp.
One of the themes I especially liked was Mr. Norrell's hoarding of magic books, particularly in times where corporate censorship can stifle political thought and many countries still do not enjoy freedom of speech or the press.
My favorite thing about this book was what a dreamy hero Jonathan Strange is. Though three dimensional, and with a few weaknesses, Clarke writes him deliciously and I couldn't have been happier with him as a protagonist.
Arabella, Lady Pole, Stephen Black, The gentleman with thistle down hair, Childremass, even Viniculus and Segundus are all vibrant supporting characters that make the story engaging and real.
Some of the best parts of the book only related tangentially to the plot, which is quite well developed. You will find emotional and suspenseful moments when you least suspect them.
I leave you with this quotation from the book:
"Can a magician kill a man by magic?" Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. "I suppose a magician might," he admitted, "but a gentleman never could."
This early-19th-century alternate history follows the characters of the title - Mr. Norrell, a magician who is obsessed with the idea of returning England to its prior state of magical glory - but who guards his secrets jealously - and Jonathan Strange, a gentlemanly dilettante who unexpectedly finds his calling in magic as well.
Written in an intentionally pseudo-Victorian style, this long book (almost 800 pages) is not the sort of tale that one falls into and forgets the world until it is over. Frequently annotated by footnotes, the meandering story *feels* long (it took me 6 days to read! Unheard of!) - but it is also a literary pleasure to read, full of quirky "facts" and fables.
The positive reviews of this book are not wrong - this is a good book, and a remarkable first novel. but I am utterly mystified as to why anyone would compare it to Tolkien (as many press reviews have) or with Harry Potter.
Readers of this book will fall into one of two categories: those who love it and can't put it down vs those who find it too tedious and slow to finish.
I fall into the category of those who loved this book. I found it steady and compelling, even though the plot was subtle and the action subdued. For me, this book possessed that unidentifiable hook that drew me in at the very beginning and kept me interested to the very end.
This book provides a unique blend of magic, mystery, mythology, and Victorian-style writing. The characters are as complex as the situations that surround them. Claims that this book is slow, tedious, and boring are not unfounded. There is certainly a contingency of readers who will absolutely hate this book. There will also be just as many who name it among their favorites.
If you start reading this book and are not intrigued by the first 100 pages or so, then you would probably do best by moving onto something else. The pacing and tone of the book remain fairly consistent throughout its 800+ pages. If the first 100 bore you, move on. If they intrigue you, then be glad to know that there are 700 more to come.
As hard as I tried, after plowing through the first 350 of its 800 plus pages, I had to give up. If you like the style of Dickens, you may enjoy this. Just not my cup of tea.
This is a behemoth of a book that won't be for everyone. It is not to be entered into lightly, so capable is it of simply draining away an entire day before you realise it's too late. Sometimes moving, sometimes frightening, and often slyly informative, this book is chock full of sneaky, subtle humour that leaves one with a general feeling of reading while sitting in the sunlight . . . whatever the weather may be where you are. I've read this book three times in less than a year. It's THAT good. The antiquated prose may turn some people off, but for those who are willing to give it a chance, this is a staggering literary feat that should not be missed by anyone with even the slightest bit of whimsy left in them.