The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke. ★★★1/2
Like all short story collections, The Ladies of Grace Adieu is a mixed bag. While it does not have any truly horrible stories, there are some that are mediocre (along with some rather wonderful ones.)
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.