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The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories Paperback – October 2, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Fans of Clarke's bestselling Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell should be pleased with this book, as the stories collected here are very much cut from the same cloth. The stories (seven previously published and one original tale, "John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner") deal with fairies and the history of English magic, and are told in the same Victorian style that made JS&MN so distinct. Prebble (who also narrated JS&MN) returns and once again triumphantly brings Clarke's richly imagined world to life. Sharing narrative duties this time around is Porter, who is equally skilled at playing prim and high-born ladies as she is using more folksy tones in "On Lickerish Hill." The footnotes that bogged down the audio edition of JS&MN are mostly absent, and the narrators' very different styles work well to give each story its own distinct feel. A lyrical and thoroughly enjoyable collection from a burgeoning master of fantasy literature.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Bookmarks Magazine
The eight stories in Ladies of Grace resemble Jonathan Strange in that fantastical creations change history, the 19th century takes on a modern spin, and charm and sophistication ooze off the pages. Here, Susanna Clarke casts a close eye on women, from fairies to damsels in distresswho, not surprisingly, tend to save themselves. Despite overall praise for the collection, reviewers agree that Clarke hasn't challenged herself enough. While critics lauded "Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge Was Built at Thoresby," "John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner," and "Mrs. Mabb," some called other stories slight. An academic framework doesn't help. In the end, Ladies of Grace weaves a similar magic as Jonathan Strange, but perhaps the book is not magical enough.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
Like all short story compilations, some were stronger than others and the concept of a professor collecting the stories was clever, but inconsistent throughout the book. I enjoyed the nods to "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell" and "Stardust," but reading either book isn't necessary, I think. By and large, this is a solid collection of fairy tales that would be a fun read-aloud.
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!
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.