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The book is set in an alternate 19th-century Britain, during the Napoleonic Wars. The story is based on the premise of magic returning to England after hundreds of years of desuetude, and the tumultuous relationship between two fictional magicians of the time. The story incorporates historical events and people into its fictional alternate reality. Historical figures encountered in the novel include the Duke of Wellington, Lord Byron and King George III. The novel, written in a pastiche of Jane Austen's literary style, uses quasi-archaic spelling for several words (such as shew, chuse, sopha, scissars, headach, and surprize). The book is interspersed with hundreds of fictional footnotes which reference a number of fictional books including magical scholarship and biographies, and which provide a detailed backstory. Many pages of the book contain more footnote text than main body text