So, upon Russell’s recommendation (he’d read good things about it and thought it sounded fascinating), I read the 800-page tome Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Her whole basis of the book was a Jane Austin world: the mannerisms, the language (even the spelling) of an early-19th Century novel, except with magic. It made for a fascinating premise. In this world, at the beginning, magic has all but disappeared from England. There are “theoretical magicians”: those who study magic, but don’t practice it. Then, magic is dramatically brought back by Mr. Norrell, who has been buying up books on magic and studying them in order to become a practicing magician and bring respectability and use back to magic in England. He is later joined by Jonathan Strange, first as a pupil and then as a rival.
Observations: 1)it’s a lot like the Lord of the Rings in that it’s whole premise is that it’s an “actual” novel from the time, which makes one accept the fantastic more readily. Tolkien wrote an “epic”/”history” that just happened to involve elfs, dwarfs, hobbits and orcs. Clarke wrote a 19th century novel that just happened to be about magic. It wouldn’t have worked if she wrote a novel ABOUT 19th century magic. 2) It’s a really long set up for a really great pay off. There’s 615 pages of background information and general set up for the less than 200 pages of really good storytelling. I almost found it too tedious — there were times I thought about just putting it down, but then something would happen to keep me going. I’m glad I stuck with it. The whole ending is really fabulous. And Clarke didn’t quite neatly tie everything up so there could be a sequel. I just hope it’s not as long!