Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke

Magic, madam, is like wine and, if you are not used to it, it will make you drunk. Faerie is never as far away as you think. Sometimes you find you have crossed an invisible line and must cope, as best you can, with petulant princesses, vengeful owls, ladies who pass their time embroidering terrible fates, or with endless paths in deep dark woods and houses that never appear the same way twice. The heroines and heroes bedevilled by such problems in these fairytales include a conceited Regency clergyman, an eighteenth-century Jewish doctor and Mary Queen of Scots, as well as two characters from "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell": Strange, himself, and the Raven King.

This is actually not the review I was promising, but I just finished this book and felt I should review it while I can keep all the stories straight in my head! So, I think I have said a few times lately that I am not much for short story collections. I rarely read them, but I do have a few in my collection and there have been some that I have quite enjoyed. Now you are probably wondering where this collection fits in. To put it quite simply, I loved it! I couldn't put it down, and that is a very rare thing for me when it comes to short stories! There was not a story in the collection that I didn't enjoy, and now I really have to get around to finishing Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell!

"The Ladies of Grace Adieu" - The title story to this collection. This story takes place during the 19th-century and looks at the troubles that women magicians had at this time. Like most professions, magic was a male-dominated world, and these three women were caught up in it. This is also the story where Mr. Strange and The Raven King make an appearance.

"Lickerish Hill" - This story is based on several sources, but for me, it was reminisent of Rumpelstiltskin. That is what I thought of when I read it, but there is a lot more going on and that story is likely not even a an original. It's another story about an unconventional woman for the times. This one did not have the head for domestic studies, but would rather learn more about the world around her, but her mother has other ideas for her.

"Mrs Mabb" - This is the story of a scorned woman who does not believe that her true-love has left her behind. It is a very fairy tale-type story! It was fun to read of all of her troubles to find out the truth and her sister is an interesting character! This story was my favourite, I think.

"The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse" - Imagine my surprise when the opening paragraph states: "This story is set in the world created by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess in Stardust". I loved that book, so I was all excited for this story. I wish there had been more to it, though. This story did disappoint me, but it was more my own fault than the writing. It's a nice, quaint story. I particularly like the ending!

"Mr. Simonelli or The Fairy Widower" - This story looks very closely at fairy enchantments. It is very much a story of what you see is not always what is there! Told in diary-format, it is about a seemingly ordinary man doing a very courageous thing. I had to laugh at the ending, even if it wasn't necessarily funny... He last words that he is said to have spoken aloud and recorded in his diary are priceless!

"Tom Brightwind or How The Fairy Bridge Was Built at Thoresby" - Another fairy story. This one about Tom Brightwind, who appears to be quite the distracted sort. He is traveling with a mortal on a route that leads to adventure along the way! There are some interesting characters in this story.

"Antickes and Frets" - This is a story about Mary Queen of Scots and her attempts to take her beloved cousin, Elizabeth, from her throne. It might not be the story we have heard before, but knowing Mary's history I can well imagine it!

"John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner" - This story was entertaining. It is the most interesting use of saints that I have ever seen. It shows that we have been going about praying all the wrong ways! It also shows that even the simplist person can be mighty... or at least have mighty friends! No one has to know that, though.

If the stories are not enough to interest you, you must also remember that this book is illustrated by the fantastic Charles' Vess! Who wouldn't want to see more from him! Clarke is a really amazing author, I have to say. She knows how to capture an audience, and she has only written this collection and one novel! I am a huge fan at this point.

This is my third read for the R.I.P. Challenge! Yay! The Bleeding Dusk by Colleen Gleason will be posted at Historical Tapestry sometime this week. I will keep you posted!


  1. She is amazing! I'm glad you loved this one :D And yes, you must finish Jonathan Strange!

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed ths as much as I did. Please do finish Jonathan Strange, it's brilliant.

  3. I haven't read either this one or Jonathan Strange. But both are on the list.

    I just finished The Bleeding Dusk myself. I'm hoping to get a review up in the next couple of days. Now, it's on to When Twilight Burns. I'm too impatient to wait any longer!

  4. I read this one recently too. A couple of the stories weren't really my thing but otherwise I thought it was an excellent collection and now I want to read Jonathan Strange more than ever!

  5. I loved this book!

  6. This is such a charming book in its physical form (great illustrations, wonderful typeface, beautifully put together in its hardback format) and yet it is so much more than charming and delightful in the reading. Like you, I enjoyed every story. I think Mrs. Mabb and Mr. Simonelli were my favorites and were the ones I enjoyed rereading to my wife the best, but I really enjoyed them all. This book, like both of Gaiman's short story collections, will be ones that I reread over and over through the years to come.

    I'm so glad you liked it. Now if only she would write more!!!

  7. Anonymous8:27 PM

    I loved this book too. And as Carl said, the hardback is just stunning! I usually prefer paperbacks, but I knew I had to have this one in hardcover because it was just so pretty.

    If you like audiobooks, I really recommend checking out the audio version of this or any of her other other stories. (Some of them were available for free on the internet a while back; I'm not sure if they still are). As delightful as they are to read, I think they may be even better to listen to.

  8. I enjoyed this too, and like xicanti had to own the hardcover! Hmm, slipcased... *dribbles*

    I loved Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell but found it quite hard work for the first third/half. After that it just flew downhill, but it did feel like a big heavy book until then!

  9. nymeth: Yeah, I really do plan to read Jonathan Strange. I just have a little pile of books to get through first and then I will see if I can get recaught up in it!

    rhinoa: It was really well-written. I got the hardcover from the bargain bin of the bookstore, no less, so it was totally worth it!

    bookfool: Me too! Now, anyways!

    cath: I was surprised that I didn't really have a bad thing to say about any of the stories! Rather surprising to me!
    stephanie: You should read her, she is very worth it from what I can tell! I plan to get back to Gleason very soon. Just don't like to rush things because I have a hard time reading similar books one right after the other.

    carl: I like the fact that you read it to your wife... I might have to take up something similar and read it to my other half. He doesn't read nearly enough on his own! I likely will reread this one too.

    xicanti: I own the hardcover of this as well. It is much nicer than the softcover! I will have to look into the audio book. Thanks for the tip!

    stormfilled: I will get back to Jonathan Strange. I was enjoying it when I started it, it was just one of those things that slipped to the wayside!

  10. Reading to her is something we started a long time ago. I believe the first book I ever read aloud to her was Dracula as she had never read it and she loved it. Her first experience with Gaiman was me reading to her. I've read Neverwhere, Stardust, Anansi Boys and Smoke and Mirrors to her. Over the years she has heard many short stories and other novels from me reading them to her. I particularly enjoy reading her short stories. Last year I read Lovecraft short stories to her and Tori and they both loved them. I'll be doing that again this year for the challenge. It is fun to share stories that I enjoy with them in this fashion, especially since my wife has plenty of her own books to read and this way we can share the experience.

  11. That's a great idea! I know that I am the sort of person that has been known to tell guys I have been with in the past to tell me a story and they would look at me like I had three heads! The guy I am with now is perfect at it, as long as I don't put him on the spot. It's a totally different experience when someone else does the talking. As to him, I don't read whole things to him, but I have been known to call him when I come to something really interesting in a book and read it to him. Or, follow him around the house paraphrasing the last book I read. Things like that. People complain that the men (or women) they are with are not big readers, but it doesn't really bother me. :)

  12. I love this collection, so delicious. Glad you enjoyed it!

    It's definitely a very pretty book too, I love the cover and the Vess illustrations.

  13. Yeah, it was very much worth having in hardcover... I couldn't imagine having it in soft! I look forward to read more from her soon.


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