Sunday, 3 May 2009

The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susannah Clarke

This is a collection of short stories written by the author of Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell. I really enjoyed that when I read it, so when I saw this on the library shelves I thought I'd give this one a go. It's written in the same style as that book and I think should be read as a companion piece to that.

The stories are all set in our world, but in the past, at a time when fairies were prevalent. I think that the style is what I liked about it the most. It's written as historical fiction even including an introduction by the (obviously fictional) professor of Sidhe (fairy) studies at Aberdeen University. He also preface one of the stories with an introduction explaining what it shows us about fairies and their lifestyles. Some of the stories actually have historical people as their central characters.

Viewed in this way, the stories do give a good insight into what our world would be like if fairies and magic existed. The situations seem entirely plausible, even with the focus being on fairies and magic. As with all short story collections, some are better than others, but they are all good and all different. I can't think of any other way to review this than give a brief overview of all eight stories, hopefully without giving anything away!

The Ladies of Grace Adieu
This is the title story, and mainly concerns a group of ladies struggling to get their ability to perform magic as well as their male counterparts accepted. Jonathon Strange himself makes an appearance in this story, and in terms of his attitude to women, doesn't actually come across that well.

On Lickerish Hill
Written in a non-conformist, old fashioned style, this is a version of Rumpelstiltskin, involving a young woman summoning fairies in an attempt to save her life. Again, this is one testifying to the magical intuition of women, as she succeeds where a group of learned men fail. The spelling would usually irritated me, but in this story it seemed to work.

Mrs Mabb
This one was one of my favourites, and also one of the longest. It concerns a woman trying to release her fiance from fairy captivity, whilst no-one else in the village believes her. They believe she's gone mad, and try to prevent her leaving the house because she always comes back wounded and with strange tales.

The Duke of Wellington Misplaces his horse
This was another of my favourites. Set in the village of Wall (from Neil Gaiman's Stardust), The Duke of Wellington stumble into Fairie, and discovers his life their is controlled by a woman embroidering. Embroidering himself, he changes the outcome, but is it for the better?

Mr Simonelli or The fairy Widower
A man arrives at a small village to take up his post as rector, assists in a birth, but son discovers there is more to the family that meets the eye. In discovering the truth and rescuing a girl, he discovers more about himself than he thought possible.

Tom Brightwind or how the Fairy Bridge was built at Thoresby
What it says really. How Tom Brightwind, an ancient fairy, built a bridge at a small village, and the strange repercussions this has on the town. This story is also quite long and gives a lot of historical detail about fairies, and how they live. Oh, and of course the bridge is not all it seems!

Antickes and Frets
A short story, but an interesting take on Mary Queen of Scots and how she may have caused her own death to escape her imprisonment, through magic of course.

John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner
John Uskglass is another character who is mentioned in the previous novel. He's the king of Cumbria and the greatest magician ever. When he upsets a simple charcoal burner, the charcoal burner invokes the saints to help him get revenge. I loved this one. The idea of conversing with the saints to get revenge amused me!

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I liked the individual stories and I really liked the fact that the stories were building on the world already established in Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell. I think anyone would enjoy them, but you would possibly get more out of them if you had already read the novel. I think setting them in a historical context really works, it all seems so real, whilst fantastical at the same time.


Cath said...

I liked this anthology very much too - *loved* the world in which she sets the stories. I haven't read the novel so this bodes well for when I eventually do.

BooksPlease said...

I liked it too. I'd read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell first so I was able to place the characters.

The Duke of Wellington was my favourite.

Jo said...

Cath, the novel is set in much the same world. Very long, but goes into a lot more depth about that world.

Jo said...

Booksplease, I'm glad I'd read the novel first. I enjoyed The Duke of Wellington, but I haven't read Stardust although I've seen the film (not the same, I know)