Mr. Norwell, a magician from Yorkshire, decides that magic needs a shiny new reputation having been mangled at the hands of street peddlers and the like. So that is the beginning of this massive story, which starts off with bang. Of course Norwell needs a pupil and Jonathan Strange arrives on the scene. I very much liked Jonathan and was excited by his presence. The best parts were where their philosophies about magic separated and created opportunities for alliances and conflict.
However all through out, there were smaller stories which never quite felt complete. I.e. two characters enter an enchanted house to call up a dead female magician...but then we never share in the outcome and how they were changed or not. I also thought that the footnotes were non-sequitur-like and rather than being there to add depth, I felt confused as to where the author was taking me. Bits of oddness scattered about. There is an epic battle of wills with disappearing books that I expected to set off a battle, but that fizzled out and the story drifted down yet another path. Twists and turns are great, but not so many with dead-ends.
Maybe it is me and I need more of a path aka plot. There were some really interesting bits with fairies, a missing finger and all-night balls but it felt like a stroll through magic just for the sake of it.
This novel was created over a 10 year period and it feels like it. I can see it more as a series of short stories..it is an impressive undertaking nonetheless.