It had been centuries since practical magic had been seen in England. Magicians nowadays only read about magic from books but actually performing magic was out of the question. Magic had gotten a bad reputation from hack fortune tellers, street magicians, and vagabonds. In Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, an attempt was made to restore magic in the early 1800s.
“Magic is not respectable, sir. It is not”
Mr. Norrell had to perform miraculous feats just to prove to people that practical magic did indeed exist. After that, the question became what exactly did England need a magician for? In particular, how does a magician help in a war against Napoleon Buonaparte (spelling is consistent with what is used in the book)?
My big issue is that the book took a long time to reveal the plot. Yes we knew from the very beginning that bringing back magic to England was a priority, but it wasn’t until about page 80 (10% of the book) that we see Mr. Norrell intended to use magic against Napoleon Buonaparte. Only then did we know the book was an alternate history / historical fiction book and the time period which the history is being altered. I understand someone smarter than I would have been able to get from the style of writing that this book took place in the early 1800s, but guess what, I am not that smart. Had I not heard glowing reviews of this book before hand, I would have been fairly confused for the first 80 pages.
Another issue I have is with formatting. Every so often there is a footnote marker that is probably a link to the footnote at the end of the chapter. And then after each footnote there is a link back to the text. The problem of course being that my e-reader (classic Kobo) does not have the option of selecting text and most certainly can’t jump from one link to another. Personally I don’t like footnotes anyway; it’s just a silly attempt by authors to show they have all this background information they created for their story and they want to try to show it off somehow. But it completely destroys the flow of the story (which is why it was put into a footnote to begin with).
Now you are probably thinking that you can’t format an e-book that perfectly suits every e-reader out on the market, especially a very old model such as mine and I completely agree with that which is why I am saying I have a problem with that even if it’s not a problem for others with new e-readers. Just to be clear, I am choosing not to go with a newer e-reader because I very much enjoy my old one. Somehow pressing a button to turn the page feels more comfortable to me then touching or sliding a screen.
I’ve been reading up on other people’s opinions of the book as I always do with the books I finish. It saddens me to read that the gentleman with the thistle-down hair is considered a villain to some. No, no, no. The man is of the most noble character, only his methods are strange which is understandable, considering he is a fairy dealing with mere mortals. Just look at the loyalty he shows his friends Stephen Black and Lady Pole. He thinks he is doing good for them!!
Oh and guess what? Buonaparte actually plays no part in the overall story at all. References to him and the war against him were simply to establish a timeline for the story. I was all excited to see how they defeat the great Buonaparte with magic and it never happened.
The title strikes an eerily similar resemblance to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, no? In fact, there is a chapter named “The curious adventure of Mr Hyde”.
Way too long and I didn’t even read the footnotes. The last 100 pages was exceptionally good. Was it worth reading the rest of the book to get to the last 100 pages? Probably not.