Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, Susanna Clarke

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other StoriesFrom "The Ladies of Grace Adieu": When Mrs. Field died, her grieving widower looked around him and discovered that the world seemed quite as full of pretty, young women as it had been in his youth. It further occurred to him that he was just as rich as ever and that, though his house already contained one pretty, young woman (his niece and ward, Cassandra Parbringer), he did not believe that another one would go amiss. He did not think that he was at all changed from what he had been and Cassandra was entirely of his opinion, for (she thought to herself) I am sure, sir, that you were every bit as tedious at twenty-one as your are at forty-nine. 

What a great first paragraph, so distinctly British. "From the author of the award-winning, internationally bestselling Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, an enchanting collection of stories. Set in versions of England that bear an uncanny resemblance to the world of Strange and Norrell, these stories are brimming with all the ingredients of good fairy tales: petulant princesses, vengeful owls, ladies who pass their time in embroidering terrible fates, endless paths in deep, dark woods, and houses that never appear the same way twice. Their heroines and heroes include the Duke of Wellington, a conceited Regency clergyman, an eighteenth-century Jewish doctor, Mary, Queen of Scots, Jonathan Strange, and the Raven King himself. The Ladies of Grace Adieu is the perfect introduction to a world where charm is always tempered by eeriness, and picaresque comedy is always darkened by the disturbing shadow of Faerie." Doesn't that description just sound so delicious?                 

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which I loved, might be a bit too dense for some, and if that's the case, this collection of short stories is perfect. At first, I didn't get into it very well, but I eventually grew very fond once again of Clarke's amazing writing style, which draws from many 19th century British authors. The title story is very good, and it tells of how three ladies from the village of Grace Adieu befuddle the renowned magician Jonathan Strange, who is coming to visit his brother-in-law. I really liked this one because it had a feminist streak to it; Strange is contemptuous of female magicians (actually, he believes that they don't exist), and the ladies teach him otherwise. Jonathan Strange, of course, appears in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and on page 515 in Chapter 43 there is a footnote which deals of the incident expanded upon in "The Ladies of Grace Adieu." I really liked how Clarke tied the story back to the original book; that added a nice touch. 

"On Lickerish Hill" is very different in tone. It was written in a cross between country dialect and medieval spelling, making for strange writing, but the story itself was very good. It's a creative new twist off of Rumpelstiltskin, and I enjoyed it. "Mrs. Mabb" tells of a mysterious woman in the village, except no one seems to know quite who she is, where she lives, or when she came to the village. She has stolen Venetia's suitor, and Venetia is determined to find out who she is. I really enjoyed "Mrs. Mabb"; it was an excellent tale with an excellent writing style that was really entertaining. Both "On Lickerish Hill" and "Mrs. Mabb" tell of encounters between strange Faerie kind. 

"The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse" is set in the world that Neil Gaiman created in Stardust. The innkeeper in the town of Wall takes a dislike to Duke Wellington, and sends his horse across the Wall, to the land of Faerie. Of course, the Duke must follow to try and get his charger back. Though a very short story (7 pages), "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse", like all of Clarke's work, is amusing and entertaining. I loved the ending of it too. 

I didn't love the next story in the collection, "Mr. Simonelli", or "The Fairy Widower", but it was a good story as well. Just not as great as the others in the collection. It's also very long, but I did really like some aspects of it. "Tom Brightwind" tells of the friendship between a Jewish doctor and a fairy prince. Like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, it is filled with long and amusing footnotes which sometimes take up the entire page! "Antickes and Frets" is a short, unremarkable story whose main characters is Mary, Queen of Scots.  "John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal-Burner" is the final tale in this volume, and I enjoyed it as well. 

The Ladies of Grace Adieu contains many amazing stories, all of which deal fascinatingly with clashes between humans and faeries. It's a fascinating, though not particularly insightful read, which I loved. 

Read The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like fairy tales
  • if you like short stories
  • if you enjoyed Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
235 pages. 

Rating: ****

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