Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell isn’t the first alternate history Napoleonic Wars story I’ve read. But it is fairly different from what I’ve picked up before. Now, the setting alone was a breath of fresh air. Most of the fantasy novels I’ve seen are either pure fantasy, set in their own world, or modern-day urban fantasy. It’s fairly unusual for a story to be set on Earth in an earlier time period. But it does still use the fairly standard trope of magic coming back. Not that it really left, humans just tend to ignore magic as technology progresses cause that how it be.
Now, this book is slow. That probably goes without saying with the page count being a little over 1000. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell leans heavily towards its 19th England setting. It is very, very British. The characters are proper English gentlemen. The book’s length gives plenty of time for characterization, worldbuilding, and everything else a fantasy story needs. The meat of the story starts snowballing when one of the characters, who is as overconfident as he is egotistical, makes a deal with a fey. Without specifying some key details. And if you know anything about fey folklore, you see where this is going.
If you like fantasy + history and long reads, you’ll probably enjoy this book. That being said, it’s pretty obvious this book won’t be for everyone. I loved how well-researched this was and that large parts of it read like a textbook. And I loved it’s a unique story that doesn’t just stick to the standard fantasy format. Magic, while it is the catalyst for the story, is kind of secondary to the plot and characters. The magic is important, but it’s not what drives the plot. Having any fantasy book that breaks the norms is just wonderfully refreshing.