Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange is a trilogy set in Victorian Age England, with a few twists. Magic and magical realms exist but start out being parts of history and are beginning to be regarded as myth. There are many Theoretical Magicians, who study magic but can only talk about it and can perform none of their own. There are also Practical Magicians who are thought to be nothing more than fortune telling charlatans. All of this changes as soon as Mr. Norrell appears on the scene. He declares himself as a Practical Magician, but what the Theoretical Magicians do not find out until way too late is that Mr. Norrell can in fact cast real magic. Mr. Norrell wasted no time in completely discrediting the Theoretical Magicians and becoming the most famous, and only functioning Practical Magician in England. There are hints and portents that there will be another magician that will arrive soon, but it is not until the end of Volume One that we finally catch a real Glimpse of Jonathan Strange.
I loved this book and I look forward to reading the other two volumes! The writing is excellent, I had no problem imagining myself at one of the many society parties that Mr. Norrell visited. There are equal parts humor and drama interwoven in the book so well that one cannot help but be charmed and clamoring for more!
What really captured me was the characters themselves. Mr. Norrell is a peevish man who is a loner and feels very threatened by any competition. He feels so threatened that he buys all the magic books that he finds and secrets them away so others cannot read them. He is far from heroic, but he tries to be a decent person. In other words, instead of seeming larger than life he seems like the guy next door. While he has a special gift he himself is not special.
Often in books Magicians are defined first as Magicians, as if they have lost some or all of their humanity by becoming a Magician. Mr. Norrell is clearly human first, and Magician is but an aspect of him. This care in portraying all the characters as human first is applied to everyone in the books. Or at least all the humans. When non-human characters are introduced they are set apart by both description and actions.
There is so much more to this book, like the manservant who is much more worldly than his master and the two society leeches who attach themselves to Mr. Norrell’s coattails and feed off his successes. I encourage everyone who loves read a good fantasy novel to start reading this book, you will not be disappointed!