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The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories Paperback – 2007
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'An unholy alliance of Austen and Angela Carter' Daily Mail 'These tales read as if Jane Austen had rewritten the Brothers Grimm ... wonderful' Spectator 'Witty rejoinders and genteel manners to contrast nicely with the darker tones of hauntings, shape-changing and black magic ... Clarke is a natural storyteller' Sunday Telegraph 'It is the poise and lightness of Clarke's prose that draws the reader in' Daily Telegraph
About the Author
Susanna Clarke is the author of the international bestseller Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. It was published in over thirty countries, shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Guardian First Book Award and the Authors' Club Best First Novel Award. It won the Hugo Award and the World Fantasy Award in 2005. Susanna Clarke lives in Cambridge.
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These stories are set in the same world of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, but they are independent stories and can be read as such. If you’re wary of picking up the 1,000 pages of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, you might want to try out these stories first to get an idea of how she writes.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell showed how wonderfully Susanna Clarke craft her writing style, but The Ladies of Grace Adieu showed her impressive ability to craft unique voices for her narrators. This quality is what made “On Lickerish Hill” my favorite story of the bunch. While it’s basically the Rumpelstiltskin story, I really came to enjoy the young woman who narrated it. She was wonderfully entertaining and clever, even if I did have some trouble with the 17th century spelling.
“The Ladies of Grace Adieu” was an excerpt from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell that did not make it into the novel but that is referenced in a footnote. The story concerns three lady magicians in a Regency era England that did not view magic as an appropriate pastime for women.
“Mrs Mabb” follows the exploits of Venetia Moore as she goes head to head with the mysterious Mrs. Mabb.
“The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse” actually uses a setting from Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. In it, the Duke of Wellington ventures into fairy land to recover his horse. It’s probably the shortest story in the collection, and I found it to be amusing.
The narrator of “Mr Simonelli, or the Fairy Widower” is not a very pleasant person, but once again, Susanna Clarke does a wonderful job of crafting his voice through his diary entries.
I felt the last three stories to be the weakest. “Tom Brightwind, or How the Fairy Bridge was Built at Thoresby” was probably my least favorite. It didn’t go anywhere unexpected and didn’t have the same feel of the others. The characters themselves also didn’t come alive; Tom Brightwind in particular felt like the standard Susanna Clarke fairy. “Antickes and Frets” and “John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner” were both a bit better, but I still found them weaker than the beginning stories.
Interestingly, the many stories with female protagonists provide a different viewpoint than her novel, which focuses on the male magicians.
Also, The Ladies of Grace Adieu is illustrated by Charles Vess! I adore these illustrations. They’re these beautiful pen and ink drawings that go so well with the stories.
A warning for others considering the ebook version: For some reason, there is no double-space between scenes. So it's jarring when you're in one place, then the next paragraph sends you somewhere else, to a different group of characters. I actually had to reread the start of the first story out of confusion until I figured out what was going on. (In my hardback edition, there are double spaces.) If you think this would be detrimental to your reading enjoyment, you might not want the Kindle version. I can't imagine the author is very happy with the appearance of the book, if she knows.
As for the stories themselves... I am fresh off my second reading of "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell," and I am loving this further immersion into Clarke's world. I haven't read all of her stories yet, but what I've encountered so far is wonderful.
In terms of the content, it is fine, but nowhere near the quality of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The characters and plots are very lightly sketched and in the one story where Strange does show up he seems curiously passive and almost out of character. This is more like a collection of fairy tales (in multiple senses of the word) than a typical collection of short stories.
Oddly, the story everybody seems to hate, On Lickerish Hill, is so far my favorite of the collection. There is no accounting for taste!