An unbelievable, revolutionary work of fantasy.
I could not believe that I finally finished it, since it was so long and started pretty slow, not picking up until the later half. And this is a 800-1,000 page long book (depends on the edition you have), so that means for the first 400 or so pages, nothing really important happened. It does not mean that the first half of the book is uninteresting. Quite the contrary. However, again, it depends very much on your taste. If you are used to and fond of the fast pacing in modern novels, then perhaps the first 400 pages, despite the awesomely quaint, witty, sarcastic writings (right, you heard so much: Austen-like prose), would be too much and many would soon have to give up. Even I sometimes found myself short of patience, what is the point, will I every finish it? It dragged on and on.
Yet, if you try adopt a different attitude, this book would be a great treat. I read a few chapters every day, leisurely choosing to read for daily amusement rather than trying to gobble up a big chunk at once (thus it took a month...). As a result, the novel turns out to be so great, so indescribable.
The fantasy in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
is unlike any other I have read before. It is a completely new treatment of the genre and a delightful and refreshing one that is. It employs a quite "matter of fact", serious, or, hah, "reasonable" tone in talking about magic and its existence in England. Various topics were integrated into the story, such as the idea of "Englishness," Napoleonic war, Northern and Southern England, magic, scholarship, the gentry, classes, races, rakes, gamblings, parliaments, kings, etc. It was a mix of high "realism" and yet at the same time there was so much of incredulity.
I would love to say more but am quite speechless and indeed powerless to elaborate and do justice to this work. I could not merely yell "Give it a try" since the book is almost a thousand page long. A bit of patience is a must. Let's just leave it a: Wow!