Popsugar Reading Challenge category: The longest book on your TBR pile
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
An 850-page book can be a challenge. Some authors will put in long stretches where nothing much happens. Others will cram in so many plots and characters that they're impossible to keep track of. Happily, Susanna Clarke does neither. She tells a compelling, rich story with characters who show unexpected depths.
In early 1800's England, magic has been dead for 200 years. There are men who call themselves magicians, but all they do is read and discuss the history of magic, without practicing any. Enter Gilbert Norrell, who has a jealously-guarded library of books with actual spells, and he's taught himself to cast them. Norrell wants to bring magic back to England, and enjoy the fame that it brings him. He takes on a student, Jonathan Strange, a young man who's recently married and unexpectedly come into possession of some spells - and finds that he can cast them. At first the book has an Austen-like feel, with sly humor.
The story takes a darker turn when Norrell secretly summons a fairy to bring a young woman back from the dead. Soon the fairy has enchanted multiple people, forcing them into a tormented existence in his realm. The fairy is an interesting villain; despite his use of trickery and force, he has no concept that he's done anything wrong. He doesn't even seem clear on the fact that his victims don't want to be there. Strange and Norrell go from allies to rivals - and they just might have to become allies again to prevail.
The cast of characters is well drawn and varied. There's Arabella Strange, Jonathan's vivacious and eminently sensible wife. Christopher Drawlight, a parasitic social climber, and his cranky sidekick, Henry Lascelles. Stephen Black, a servant who (according to the fairy) is destined to be a king. John Childermass, Norrell's inscrutable servant. All of them prove capable of greater heroism or villainy than meets the eye.
The world building throughout the book is deeply immersive, and I have to give special mention to the footnotes. They're filled with folklore, fairy stories, notes on the history of magic, and the mysterious character whose presence hovers over the whole story: the legendary Raven King, who is long dead, or in the fairy realm, or....?