Susanna Clarke, Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell.
M-- recommended this one to me; I can only imagine it was because he'd read only the beginning, and didn't know that the book--which shows such promise in the first hundred pages--rapidly becomes painfully boring thereafter.
Clarke captures the feel of a nineteenth century novel fairly quickly, but her story lacks the liveliness of Dickens, the sensibility of Eliot, or the amusement of manners of Austen. It feels like a work in the style of the masters, and lacks the punch, the zip, the verve. It's just not fun enough.
The story begins with England lacking any magical practitioners. Mr. Norrell fills the void, and takes as a student the only other person capable of performing magic--Strange--and the two perform work that allows England to defeat Napoleon. Norrell's goal throughout is to restore a particular form of magic to prominence and renown, abandoning the wild magic of Fairy and of the mysterious and mythic Raven King of North England. Sadly, the story continues with this, and with just a vague bit of a nemesis.
The problem is that there is no real conflict nor passion. There are opportunities for both, but the staid pace continues seemingly interminably without developing. The nemesis never becomes truly real nor scary to the audience: a sad state of affairs indeed for a work of fantasy.
While an intriguing idea, the book remains imitative in its form, never truly taking advantage of its flexibility. The story is dreary; the novel is unworthy of the praise it has received.