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What the book is the story of two magicians, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (didn't see *that* twist coming, did you!), trying to bring the art and practice of magic back to England. There are many theoretical magicians still around, but no one has managed to do a magic spell for hundreds of years. Well, until these guys pop along. This is quite an epic story in itself. Throw in an entire alternative history of England including it's folklore and myths, which involves magic and faeries being commonplace and integral to this history, and it turns into this tome. That the North and the South of England were different kingdoms, with the North ruled over by a magical king called the Raven King. And then there are all the other stories that tie in and out of the main plot.
It is a clever book. It reads like a Georgian, Industrial Revolution period book. It has the feel, the language and the tone. It's a bit of a shock when you remember it was only published 9 years ago. It's subtle and sarcastic. I found the sarcasm perfect in fact, I would read parts with a smug smirk on my face.
But it's so LONG. It's slow to start. I'm glad I gave it go number two on the plane over there, as I had nothing else to read (and I was NOT going to re-read Invisible Monsters) as I pushed through the first 200pp or so, and was really enjoying it when we landed and I was at page 400 or so. But then the middle of the book could have cut down a bit. Just a bit. I felt there was a bit too much same same at one point. The ending while pretty good, just I felt wasn't as epic as I deserved for investing myself in 1008pp. It was good, don't get me wrong, it was just... subtle.. again.
Overall I really enjoyed the book. I wanted to settle for a bit, to see what I thought after a few weeks. And I am the same. It was a 4 star book. I am glad I read it. I'm not annoyed I read over a thousand pages for what I got, as in the end I got a wonderful story about magic and magicians and alternate history and a wealth more of stories and lore to file away. And really, it confirmed that Yorkshire is an inherently magical place. That's worth reading a book for *wink*.