By People Staff
September 13, 2004 12:00 PM

By Susanna Clarke

CRITIC’S CHOICE

Clarke’s debut novel goes where Harry Potter fears to tread—into a world where wand-waving is malevolent and decidedly not for children. Combining folklore and fantasy with horror-story imagination, she creates a Napoleonic-era England alive with the promise—and danger—of uncontrollable forces.

In 1807 London, scholar Gilbert Norrell resurrects magic from its dormant state. He takes on a pupil, one Jonathan Strange. Each has a secret. Norrell has dabbled in black magic, unwittingly releasing a pernicious force. Meanwhile, Strange, growing frustrated with his mentor, vows to bring back the Raven King, a powerful magician and the symbol of the art in all its terrible glory.

Clarke’s sober style keeps the fantasy grounded, and meticulous historical research brings the magical episodes to terrifying life. This is a gorgeous book of unforgettable images—a servant walking through the London rain outfitted with the crown, orb and scepter of a king; a peasant girl bled to death by a fairy’s kiss; a “box, the color of heartache” in which a society woman’s finger is stored. Clarke is the real magician here; in her capable hands, all this and infinitely more seems possible.

FANTASY

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