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75 of 76 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 22, 2006
For those who have read _Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell_: This book is essentially a collection of short stories of the same kind as the various snippets included as footnotes in _Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell_, but of greater length -- not so much a sequel as a collection of spin-off tales. It even includes at least one story referred to in that book but never detailed therein (the tale of John Uskglass and the Cumbrian charcoal burner). Only one of the stories features either Strange or Norell as characters, but all of them (with the possible exception of "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces his Horse," which is set in or perhaps overlaps with, the setting of Neil Gaiman's _Stardust_) are set in and flesh out the same world. All share the same dryly witty, intelligent, intellectually charming writing style that made the prior novel so worthwhile. In some ways, this collection shows more technical expertise than _Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell_, because the stories include a number of different viewpoints, use different stylistic devices, and achieve a different range of effects than found in the novel. The author has a wider range to play with here, outside the limits of a single novel's plotline, and she takes excellent advantage of that.

For those who have not:

If you like Jane Austen, have a strong taste for 18th or 19th century fiction or fantasy stories, like Neil Gaiman's _Stardust_ or Lord Dunsany's works, or find the thought of an mix of those two sources appealing, this book will probably appeal to you very strongly and I recommend it highly. It may be the first original short-story collection in a very long time to draw upon the same tradition as the old classics like Howard Pyle's _Wonder Clock_ or the old Andrew Lang _[color] Fairy Books_, with the exception and improvement that this story collection has its own sensibility, style, and manner -- this is not a random medley of folk tales, but a deliberate product of a skilled writer working to create a specific fantasy milieu. It would be relatively accurate to describe the book as a collection, not of "fairy tales," but of recorded, historical stories about fairies from a world whose history ran (mostly) parallel to our own, but with slightly more magic.

Most of the stories are written with a dry, highly mannered wit, very reminiscent of Jane Austen's writing style -- a deliberate conciet, I'm sure, and very well executed (One of the stories in the collection is an exception, a version of a classic fairy tale written in period Suffolk dialect; it may be the best-executed of the lot).This is "historical fiction" of a very specific kind. Only two stories feature historical characters ("The Duke of Wellington Misplaces his Horse" and "Antickes and Frets," which concerns Mary Queen of Scots), but the setting, tone, and style are all set in the 18th or 19th centuries and executed as if the stories were written by period authors. This is not the sort of "historical fiction" where someone writes a modern thriller and throws a bunch of historical names into the pot as minor characters -- it is historical fiction written (mostly) as if written during the time period wherein the stories were set -- one of them even is even an epistolary story, taking the form of a series of period journal entries and letters.

I don't mean to imply that these stories are derivative, or exact replicas of old fairy tales, or that the style merely mimics Austen's, etc. All of those sources are drawn upon, but a remarkably modern synthesis is achieved -- this is very clearly a modern work, and there are definitely places where sex, violence, and all the other things modern audiences desire show through the mannered veneer of style and tone. But the mannered, wit-charged tone, the period conceits, etc., all are expertly utilized; the reader is left with a definite impression that all of these stories are part of an extant, coherent, and compelling world. Everything in each story fits together, and all of the stories fit together into a whole - even if none of the plotlines intersect, they all hang together in the same general web.

I would not recommend this book to everyone. Some people just aren't going to go for this sort of thing. But if you like any of the stylistic sources on which the author draws, or if you appreciate an author with a clever, unique style, or if you just like masterful writing, then you will almost certainly regret not purchasing a copy of this book. It is hard to imagine this sort of fantasy/historical fiction hybrid being executed more masterfully by anyone. If you read this book and like it, you'll almost certainly find yourself purchasing the novel as well.

A final word on the illustrations: Charles Vess's line-drawing illustrations provide an excellent accompaniment to the text, both in tone and in richness of detail. They achieve much the same sort of balance that the text does,such that the viewer simultaneously realizes they are not period illustrations but is, at the same time, given the impression that could have been.
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52 of 58 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICEon October 17, 2006
The eight short stories in this collection are set in the same England as Clarke's popular novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (which I have not read), an England in which magic is at least nominally present and faeries are human-like creatures with very considerable powers. All but one of the stories, which range in length from a few pages to 45 pages, have been previously published over the last ten years in various anthologies such as Starlight 1, 2, and 3, and Black Swan, White Raven and Black Heart, Ivory Bones.

Although the leadoff story, which gives the book it's title, concerns Dr. Strange and a trio of witches, the bulk of the stories (and certainly the more memorable ones), revolve around the capricious doings of various powerful fairies. A somewhat less powerful fairy is at the heart of he second story, "On Likerish Hill", which riffs on the Rumplestilsken story. The third story, "Mrs. Mabb", is an excellent old-fashioned tale about a poor young woman whose fiancee has been ensorcelled by a fairy queen. "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse," is a comic interlude featuring the famous hero of the Peninsular and Napoleonic Wars, and how he survives an accidental visit the the Fairy Kingdom.

Another longer, and somewhat more engaging story is "Mr. Simonelli or the Fairy Widower", in which a Cambridge scholar turned local rector matches wits with the local fairy lord. Another long and fairly decent story is "Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge...," in which a Jewish doctor and fairy lord making their way cross-country stumble upon a village severely in need of a bridge. What happens is somewhat obvious, but it's a story well told. The seventh story, "Antickes and Frets" is a somewhat perfunctory one about Mary Queen of Scots and some magical embroidery. The final story, which appears here for the first time, is the brief "John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner". It's another classic story, this time of a lowly woodsman taking on a fairy lord, matching prayers to the saints again fairy magic.

On the whole, the collection should be of great interest to fans of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and of intermittent interest to those unfamiliar with Clarke's work. The prose is generally highly formal and stylized, which matches the tone of the stories but becomes somewhat tiresome over the course of a book. Similarly, the plots of the various stories often cover the same ground (humans matching wits with fairies), so that reading the book straight through becomes a touch tedious. Taken individually, each story has something to recommend it, and I suspect that they would feel much more distinctive in their original appearances, alongside the works of many different kinds of writers. in that vein, perhaps the best way to approach this book is to read a story of month or so, mixing it up with other kinds of reading so that Clarke's voice retains its distinctive nature.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
The moment I finished Susanna Clarke's wonderful first novel "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell", I wished that there was more of it. It was a long wait, but finally the fans of Clarke's magically-soaked nineteenth-century Britain have a sequel - of sorts. Clarke presents eight short stories concerned with the presence of Faerie in England, and its influence on human inhabitants, all set in the same universe (with the same magical structure) as her previous work. However, it's more of a companion piece than a sequel, considering it does not continue the story told in her novel, but expands on several of its ideas and subplots.

This is particularly the case in the title story, "The Ladies of Grace Adieu", in which we find out why Jonathan Strange was so eager to remove his brother-in-law from the province of Gloucestershire (as mentioned in footnote 2, chapter 43 of "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell"). The ladies in question are Mrs Field and her step-niece Miss Cassandra Parbringer, who are close friends with Miss Tobias, a young governess who is the warden of two young heiresses in a wealthy estate. When the women are confronted by both a gold-digging young captain and a suspicious Jonathan Strange, they take matters into their own hands - calling up their own magical arts.

It is a mysterious, charming and beautifully written story, capturing what her fans love best about Clarke's work: her delicate prose, her sense of humour, her grasp of the darker side of Faerie, and her refusal to tell the reader everything. Instead, we are given precisely what we need to make sense of the story, whilst many of the details are left mysteriously obscure. It is also the story that is most dependent on a reader's prior familiarity with "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell", and though it is not essential that the masterwork be read first, it's certainly recommended.

"On Lickerish Hill" is an intriguing retelling of the Rumplestiltskin story, told in first-person narrative by a young wife who secures the help of a faerie-creature in completing the demands set to her by her husband. But can she pay the price demanded of her? Its most memorable feature is its use of Suffolk dialect to tell the tale. Here's an example of the prose used in the opening sentence:

"When I waz a child I lived at Dr Quince's on the other side of Lickerish Hill. Sometimes in a winters-twilight I have look't out of Dr Quince's windowe and seen Lickerish Hill (where the Pharisees live) like a long brown shippe upon a grey sea and I have seen far-awaie lights like silver stares among the dark trees."

The third story again pits a young woman against the tricky and selfish nature of Faerie, in the bittersweet and sometimes disturbing "Mrs Mabb". This time, a young woman called Venetia Moore is on the hunt for her lost love after the elusive Mrs Mabb steals him away. Hearing different accounts of her rival wherever she goes, Venetia goes on the hunt for the house in which she believes her sweetheart is being held prisoner, whilst her family worries for her personal sanity. With some creepy examples of memory-loss and the world bending into Faerie before one's eyes, Clarke certainly presents a feisty and brave young heroine, one prepared to brave the perils of a powerful faerie to win her beloved back.

"The Duke of Wellington Misplace his Horse" is a story of particular interest to anyone who has read Neil Gaiman's "Stardust", a story set in a village called Wall that was situated (aptly enough) near the wall that separates our world from Faerie. In this mostly-humourous tale, the Duke of Wellington chases his horse Copenhagen into Faerie where he happens upon a cottage. Inside is a young woman, embroidering a rather remarkable tapestry...

The next two stories are the longest ones to be found in the collection, and consequently my favourites, since Clarke has plenty of time and space to develop certain aspects of the story. "Mr Simonelli or The Fairy Widower" is told in journal-form by Mr Simonelli himself, who has been tricked by a rival-colleague of Corpus Christi College to accept an unsuitable position as clergyman in the country. He has not long arrived when he finds himself introduced to the enigmatic John Hollyshoes, a hitherto unknown relation to Simonelli. Finally understanding where his foreign appearance comes from, Simonelli sets himself against his fairy cousin, matching his fairy wits against his cousin's in order to secure the safety of his newfound community.

"Tom Brightwind: How the Fairy Bridge was Built at Thoresby" chronicles one of the adventures of the fairy-prince Tom and his unlikely friend David Montefiore, a Jewish physician. When David is called away to a patient, Tom tags along and the two are sidetracked at the village of Thoresby, which is in desperate need of a bridge. Tom takes up the challenge, promising to build the bridge in one night (whilst paying a visit to the magistrate's barren wife). It is a wonderful story about the personality of faeries and their relationship with both other faeries and human beings. Furthermore, it once more makes use of Clarke's famous footnotes, which are tidbits of knowledge scattered throughout "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell" and always fun to divulge in.

"Antickes and Frets" explores the life of Mary Queen of Scots after her imprisonment and her dangerous game of cat and mouse with both Queen Elizabeth and the new mistress of her jail-house, Countess Shrewsbury. Although it's an interesting magical spin on the monarch's life, it has little to do with Faerie itself, save in the character of the Countess. Presumably she's a witch or sorceress of some kind, but in this case Clarke's decision to leave certain aspects of the tale untold is more frustrating than aptly enigmatic.

Finally, Clarke uses the core concept from her previous novel as the centre of the last story: John Uskglass, also known as the Raven King. "John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner" pits the king of all magicians, the mortal child who was raised by fairies, the most powerful medium between earth and Faerie against a simple charcoal burner who calls upon various saints to seek revenge against the perceived slights done upon him by John Uskglass. It's not the strongest story in the collection, and sadly the enigmatic and powerful Raven King is (being the butt of the joke in this particular story) is sold a little short, and not at all the character as he appeared in "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell".

What makes Clarke's stories (and novel) so appealing is her attention to scholarly detail. For example, all of the short stories are preceded by an introduction by (the fictional) Professor James Sutherland, Director of Sidhe Studies at the University of Aberdeen, who has organised this collection for our benefit, in the hopes that it will shed further light on the relationship between Faerie and humanity in this period. He mentions the work of other scholars in his field, the disagreements that arise in interpreting certain fairy lore, and the possible discrepancy between reality and the stories told (according to him, Mr Simonelli's journals should be read with a pinch of salt, considering that Simonelli abridged them several times). All of the work is given context in either history or folklore, and is often footnoted, which of course gives it a realistic depth that makes you feel as though the world of faerie really is being studied! Clarke doesn't just present Faerie, but the imaginary research that goes on by scholars *into* Faerie, and it makes her stories even more enjoyable to read.

Clarke doesn't just write fantasy, as her character portraits are vivid and sympathetic (though obviously not quite as in-depth in short stories), as are the human relations found throughout the stories. Friends, parents, sisters, rivals, family members - all these relationship are wonderfully captured throughout, between both human and faerie individuals. She's also quite a humourous author, and is obviously a fan of Jane Austen's precise, delicate prose. Clarke perfectly captures the form and feel of an Austen novel, and the manners and decorum of a Jane Austen novel is perfectly balanced against the wildness and danger of Faerie.

This collection is a wonderful companion piece to "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell", and once again whets my appetite for even more stories from this talented author. Definitely recommended, even to those who don't usually read fantasy.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2012
I greatly enjoyed "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel", and this book is certainly more of the same good stuff. I am rather disappointed, however, at the number of apparent typos in the Kindle Edition. It seems to have been scanned using some poor OCR software, and not subsequently reviewed.

For instance, "Before the Raven King was a Icing at all". Clearly, "Ic" ought to be a "K". This is just one example. Other random letters and numbers appear in the middle of words, and I'm not sure that all the paragraph and page breaks are where they're supposed to be.

How does this happen? A single read-through should have caught most of these errors. They're really distracting.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2011
I first read The Ladies of Grace Adieu in hardcover many years ago and enjoyed it greatly. Unfortunately, I've found that the Kindle edition is simply sloppily edited. While readable, typos do abound. This becomes a particular problem for a book that frequently employs unorthodox or antiquated spellings. I love my Kindle, but I would have appreciated more care from the editors responsible for this version.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2007
This rather slight collection of short stories by the author of _Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell_ is certainly not slight in terms of quality. The writing is consistently good, her subjects are in harmony with that of _Jonathan Strange_, and the styles are delightful.

I say `styles' because there is just a touch of variety in this little volume. The title story, "The Ladies of Grace Adieu" is very much in the mock-history voice of _Jonathan Strange_, tempered by what seems a touch of Jane Austen and a healthy dash of a Victorian or Edwardian worldview. It seems that Strange and Norrell may not have been the only magicians in England.

"On Lickerish Hill," a dialect piece, demonstrates Ms. Clarke's background in folklore and ability to write good dialect, but really isn't quite as much fun as the other stories. Ms. Clarke's voice is too delightful to suffer its loss under a veneer of unkempt grammar and pronunciation.

"Mrs. Mabb" and "Mr. Simonelli or the Fairy Widower" strongly parallel the style of late 19th to early 20th. century stories of the supernatural, a variety of story offered by such practitioners as Amelia Edwards and E.F. Benson, with "Mrs. Mabb" also echoing a bit of Austen.

"Tom Brightwind: How the Fairy Bridge was Built at Thoresby" mirrors the world of Jonathan Strange perfectly. It features another totally capricious fairy creature, one whose acts happen to prove rather more benevolent than those of _Jonathan Strange's_ `man with the thistledown hair.'

The briefer stories, "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse," "Antickes and Frets," and "John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner" all hold the qualities of the footnotes and derived tales found in _Jonathan Strange_.

The title story and the `Fairy Bridge' story strike me as the best in the collection, though all were quite worth reading. Clarke's writing demonstrates a wonderful sense of pace, as I find myself lingering over Clarke's stories and stopping at curious moments just so I will have the pleasure of picking the book up again. There is little rush to see what will happen; the journey is the reward. I claimed Clarke's mock historical style the high point of _Jonathan Strange_. Now I am not so certain - it may be the leisurely, almost Victorian (yet never ponderous) pacing is the strongest element, the one most responsible for the half-smiles and gentle chuckles that appear as I read her words
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2006
The Ladies of Grace Adieu was a pleasant read. The fairy tale stories were literally fairy tales, and a completely revolutionary idea that I think deserves praise. Although the book was not as good as Jonathan Strange as Mr. Norrel (ironically, although JS and Mr.N was around 800 pages and this is a quarter of that, I felt like these stories dragged on more than the novel's). But, in all respect, Susanna Clarke has the potential to be on the best writers of our time. Her sceneries are beautifully crafted, her ideas unimaginably good, and the depth of her vocabulary is tremendous. She is truly a great writer, and I think is one of only two authors who have effectively been able to convey magical life to the public. The only other author is also a female and English (and a billionaire if it has any relevance). Clarke has complete control of her writing style, it is unimaginably well developed and her own, and has made the epic novel something enjoyable. Read her, I really hope you agree.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Susanna Clarke made a dazzling debut with "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell," which was the sort of fantasy story that Jane Austen would have written, had she lived around magic and fey.

Still fresh from her first bestseller, she presents a new array of captivating stories in "The Ladies of Grace Adieu." But expect it to be more whimsical and varied, rather than a sprawling fantasy-historical epic -- these are more like nuggets.

The title story takes place in the magical Regency period of her debut: dull Mr. Field remarries after his wife died, and his pretty second wife, his niece, and a friend soon become good friends. When Mr. Strange passes by on a family errand, he discovers that there is more -- these ladies are all magicians, and have quietly escaped the boundaries placed by society.

From there on, Clarke trips through a series of strange, fantastical stories: when a young newlywed finds that her rich hubby expects her to spin flax, she asks for help from a nasty little fairy, who will kidnap her if she doesn't guess his name. Think a Regency "Rumplestiltskin."

Then a young lady tries to regain her boyfriend from the mysterious "Mrs. Mabb"; a Duke changes his destiny with a pair of scissors and a needle; a Jewish doctor and a fairy nobleman travel through England; the Queen of Scots becomes fascinated by an embroidered figure; and a young pastor finds himself enmeshed with a cruel fairy lord. One of the stories is even set in the world of Neil Gaiman's "Stardust."

"The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories" is more fantasy and less history than the full-length novel, although it leans more heavily on history. But then, most of these short stories may not be in the same universe, and they range from whimsical little fluff pieces to almost-horror.

Clarke still writes with the solid nineteenth-century style, flavoured with shimmering descriptions of "Pharisees" and odd creatures, although Clarke occasionally skimps on the more exotic descriptions -- just what do "goblin babies" look like? The second story is also amusingly written in much-mispelled English ("...lookes at me with his bewtiful Eyes..."), and Clarke peppers the other stories with older words like "shewed."

There are also some deeper moments, where Clarke approaches the lack of freedom given to women (magical or not) where they only have marriage to a well-off dullard to look forward to. And though the shorter stories are not much more than fables, the longer ones have intriguing characters who are likable in an understated way -- including some very familiar, quirky ones.

"The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories" is a solid little collection, more whimsical than Clarke's first book. Very pleasant Regency "Pharisee" tales, from a modern master.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2006
With "The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories," Susanna Clarke weaves history, legend and myth to give us one of the best collections of supernatural tales since the days of Arthur Conan Doyle and Joseph Sheridan LeFanu. Each of her stories contains a hearty dose of magic, mystery, melancholic atmosphere and witty dialogue, all of which combine to cast their own spell over the reader.

Clearly Ms. Clarke has done her research, as evinced by the numerous details and nuances given the Otherworld and its inhabitants. Many of the tales show the firm influence of her predecessors in the genre as well. Her story "Mr. Simonelli or the Fairie Widower" gives a strong nod to Mr. LeFanu's "Laura Silver Bell". There are also homages to Mr. Gaiman and John Aubrey. However, it must be said that each of these improves on the original in terms of scope, detail and entertainment value. Lady Wilde and Lady Gregory would be proud!

All in all, this collection is a delight which kept me reading up until the wee hours of the morning. Definitely recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2012
Wish I could get my money back. While the stoies are great, though a bit less absorbing than her previous book, the kindle edition is horrible. Mispellings abound and the illustrations don`t come out right, but most disappointing is the lack of section divisions that make it extremely confusing! Very disappointed.
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