I found this book delightful from beginning to end. It's set in the early 1800s in England. It started out a little slowly, paced at the appropriate pace for the time. From the first appearance of magic in the book I was captivated. It was so creative and original. I'd never encountered anything else like it. All the stones and statues of a cathedral in Yorkshire woke up and began moving and speaking. Such a startling and delightful thing to happen!
As the story continues, we meet a number of characters of great interest and enjoy lots of droll English humor. I laughed out loud a number of times while reading the book. The plot follows our heroes through the Napoleanic Wars and details the part they played, with good old English magic, in defeating the French. Here's where a better knowledge of history than I possess would have come in handy. I'm sure the book was well researched, and most likely the various strategems such as conjuring magical roads for the British, and mudholes for the French, come as explanations for different puzzling turns of events which historians surely have wondered about before they found the TRUE EXPLANATIONS in this book. I wish I'd known enough to cackle with delight at these episodes.
The ending was quite satisfying but also a bit puzzling. I'm still trying to think it through to my satisfaction. Here's the spoiler part so DON'T READ FURTHER if you don't want spoilers. It seems that when Stephen Black killed the Gentleman with the Thistle Down Hair at the end, that his own enchantment was broken, and Arabella's enchantment was broken at the instant of the gentleman's death. Also, the inhabitants of Lost Hope were no longer enchanted, either. However, Strange and Norrell were still trapped inside the pillar of blackness cast by that same gentleman. That didn't make any sense to me. I would have thought their spell would be broken at the same time. Does anyone understand why it wasn't?
I also for some reason came to suspect that Norrell's aversion to all things faerie was due, perhaps, to his own history of having someone beloved to him enchanted away, or something. I was sure we would find out some revealing backstory about Norrell which would render his subsequent actions more understandable and his character in general much more lovable. None such ever materialized, though.
I gather the man Childermass saw at the end was John Uskglass himself, and that he changed the writing on Vinculus' skin and brought him back to life. It all makes sense to me except for the one thing. Why were Strange and Norrell not set free at the end? If anyone has seen what I must have missed, please clue me in.
All in all a lovely book. I recommend it highly. Very engrossing and lots of fun. By the way, you can skip all the footnotes if you like and not miss much of anything. However, if you're not fond of digressions, you might not like this book very much to begin with. It's worth, though, taking lots of time to enjoy.