Clarke's imagination is prodigious, her pacing is masterly and she knows how to employ dry humor in the service of majesty ... With a cheery tone, Clarke welcomes herself into an exalted company of British writers — not only, some might argue, Dickens and Austen, but also the fantasy legends Kenneth Grahame and George MacDonald — as well as contemporary writers like Susan Cooper and Philip Pullman ...prose can be rummy and startling, though a reader must put up with the occasional trope evoking the authorial style of other times... Impressive as magicians, neither Mr. Strange nor Mr. Norrell are particularly appealing people; they both seem like sidekicks out of Dickens, promoted onto a central stage before they've had the chance to develop as prime-time players ... In this fantasy, the master that magic serves is reverence for writing.
Neil Gaiman calls Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell 'the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years' ... Clearly Gaiman likes this book a whole lot ...at heart a book about the present's relationship to the past. In its pages Clarke takes the accepted fabric of English culture and inserts just a single new thread: that during the Renaissance, magic actually worked ...I wonder if this encyclopedic mirroring of so many Romantic styles and situations doesn't slightly weaken the novel by making it too capacious, too loose and baggy...Amid so much richness, I occasionally found myself yearning for a somewhat leaner narrative, but other readers may wallow in just this triple-decker plumminess. At any event, here is God's plenty, and there's plenty of it.
...those who find enchantment in books about magicians will, by and large, be amazed at the elaborateness of what [Clarke] has done. But this novel can be as fussy and poky as it is clever. It could have been improved by an editor with a magic wand ... The tricks, spells, illusions and footnotes — endless footnotes — also arrive at a tireless yet wearying pace. Inevitably, the book's drama is eroded by so many minor goings-on. They detract from the real wonders that the author has wrought ... Though she sorely lacks Ms. Rowling's expert timing, the two share a similar sense of play ... Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell has been celebrated as an adult Harry Potter story, but it is more like a flatter and flabbier one ...it does become the basis for a brand new fantasy world, an intricate and fully imagined universe of bewitching tricks. Maybe that's enough.