Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.
This is a great first novel, set in England during the Napoleonic wars, but with an alternate history in which magic was practiced until the relatively recent past, and is, as the book opens, a respectable topic of theoretical study for the upper-middle classes. This cosy arrangement is upset by the arrival of first one, and then a second, real practical magician. The result is a mixture of fairy story, historical novel and academic tome (the footnotes alone are well worth the admission price) with a total effect that is entirely new. The main action, involving the eponymous magicians, is great fun, and the subplots, which have the sinister edge of all good fairy stories, are even better.
After looking at the reviews on Amazon, I think one thing is clear. If you loved the Harry Potter books, you probably won’t like Jonathan Strange. If like me, you found Harry a pleasant read, but want something more than a readable mass-market kids book then this might be the book for you. Where Harry is Billy Bunter + magic, this is something more like Jane Austen+magic.
You can get it from your local bookshop in both black-on-white and white-on-black versions. For those who like ordering from Amazon, here’s a link or click on the picture above. This is part of Amazon’s associate program, under which I get a miniscule cut, marking my first tentative venture into blog commercialisation. I believe some people have made enough out of this to afford to buy a book for themselves.