Nearly ten years after I bought the book I have read every single word, every single footnote, and I am very nearly lost for words. I loved it that much.
The story opens in a world is so very alive, a very real England, an England that I visited many times in 18th and 19th century novels, an England rich in detail, but an England that has been rebuilt with have the history and presence of magic quite beautifully woven in.
A wonderful array of characters, each and everyone with a significant part to play, simply and beautifully drawn, were given names that described them beautifully without ever seeming contrived, and they brought that world, and that story to life.
It began in an England where magic had died after the disappearance of its greatest magician, The Raven King, who had come out of the Land of Faerie to reign in the north. Magic was a dry academic subject, not a practical art.
One man asked why that was, and events that the Raven King had prophesised began to unfold:
Two magicians shall appear in England.
The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me;
The first shall be governed by thieves and murderers; the second shall conspire at his own destruction;
The first shall bury his heart in a dark wood beneath the snow, yet still feel its ache;
The second shall see his dearest possession in his enemy’s hand.
The first shall pass his life alone; he shall be his own gaoler;
The second shall tread lonely roads, the storm above his head, seeking a dark tower upon a high hillside.
I sit upon a black throne in the shadows but they shall not see me.
The rain shall make a door for me and I shall pass through it;
The stones shall make a throne for me and I shall sit upon it.
The nameless slave shall wear a silver crown,
The nameless slave shall be a king in a strange country.
I don’t want to write about details of plot and character, because I couldn’t possibly do them justice, and if I tried I wouldprobably be up all night, going around and around in circles.
What I will write about are some of the things I loved:
I loved that the prophecy played out in the story, and that even though I had ideas about what was going to happen I never really knew, and that what did happen was exactly right.
I loved the characters and the relationship of Mr Norrell and Mr Strange, and that even thought their differing natures and view about the history and restoration of magic in England drove them apart, their love of magic pulled them together.
I loved that so much of magic, so much of the heart of the story, was steeped in nature and history, and utterly timeless.
I loved the set pieces, and the drawing in of real figures from history was inspired.
I loved the tone, the wit, the style, the echoes of great novelists; and I was dazzled by the depth of knowledge, by the love of the creator for her creation that shone from the pages, and by the work that she had so clearly done to allow this world so rich in detail, so real and so magical, to live and breathe.
I loved the end of the story echoed the beginning, and that the seeds of that ending were sown very quietly, and very early in the story. And I loved that though the ending was an ending, it might also be the start of something else.
Most of all, I loved that even though the book wasn’t quite perfect, that there were one or two sequences that dragged, it didn’t matter, that I still loved the book as a whole. Because the idea was so wonderful, because its execution was so clever, and because everything came together and worked quite perfectly.
I didn’t want to leave that world, I wanted to know what was happening around the stories when interesting characters were offstage, I wanted to know what had happened before, what would happen afterward, and I so wanted to be part of it all.
How I wish I could visit the library at Hurfew, and read and read and read …..
I’m at a loss now that the story has played out, but I am quite sure that one day I will visit this world again.
Vishy, from Vishy’s Blog, and Delia, from Postcards from Asia have been the hosts of this readalong, and I am so grateful that they inspired me to pick this book up and finally read it right through to the end.