How does a virtually uknown (and rather hot) British chick rattle off a 700+ page debut novel and manage to win the prestigious Hugo Award (the Oscars of scifi/fantasy) on her first effort?
Who knows. But I do know that Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, absolutely blew me away on every page. I didn't even know it had won the Hugo until well after I'd read this, and I'm glad it got the recognition it deserves.
Most fantasy novels are set in other worlds. Clarke has created an alternate Europe of the early 1800s, where magic was once real, but now forgotten. Then come two rival magicians (the title characters), who each have a very different view of how magic works. Exploding onto the London scene, they do everything from animate statues to wake the dead to help Wellington by giving Napoleon bad dreams. Their rivalry, and eventual partnership, spans hundreds of pages of absolutely charming and witty writing. You know all those girly Jane Austen novels they turn into Gwyneth Paltrow movies? Well, pretend those were all fantasy novels, and you begin to get some idea of how this story "feels." One thing I really like about the book is that it has extensive footnotes (all fake) referencing supposed tomes of magic and historical works. At times cute, at times truly scary (especially when dealing with the ancient magic of the mysterious Raven King), this is a great novel for anyone who appreicates wit and imagination.