Set in England during the Industrial Revolution at the beginning of the 19th century, the series presents an alternate history where magic is widely acknowledged, but rarely practiced.
Living in the rural north, Mr Norrell of Hurtfew Abbey is able to make the statues of York Minster talk and move. His manservant John Childermass persuades him to travel to London to help in the war against France. While there, Mr Norrell encounters a leading member of the government and makes magic respectable in the realm when he conjures a fairy to bring the minister's fiancée back to life.
Meanwhile, also in London, Jonathan Strange meets Vinculus, a magician on Threadneedle Street, while attempting to propose to his love Arabella. Strange is told by Vinculus that he is destined to be a great magician and begins to study magic.