Clarke’s masterpiece began with a waking dream of an Englishman — a magician of some kind — chatting with tourists in Venice, somewhere around the turn of the (19th) century. That dream became an extraordinary novel: the enthralling, moving story of a rivalry between the only two practicing sorcerers in England, written in magnificent, stately, witty prose that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Jane Austen’s writing-desk. Clarke writes about the supernatural, but with warmth and empathy and sadness that are very much of our world.
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