The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke
Reviewed by Doug Brown
If you haven't yet read Clarke's previous fantasy novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I highly recommend doing so. On the surface, it is a story of two magicians in early nineteenth-century England, and their interactions with the world of Faerie. In substance, however, Clarke's writing is a rich dessert of social commentary in the Dickens/Austen vein. The Ladies of Grace Adieu is a collection of eight stories which mostly take place in that same world and time, and told in the same voice. Jonathan Strange appears in the title story, and other characters from Strange and Norrell pop up from time to time. One story is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin.
Here's part of the first paragraph to give you an idea of the contents.
When Mrs. Field died, her grieving widower looked around him and discovered that the world seemed quite as full of pretty, young women as it had been in his youth. It further occurred to him that he was just as rich as ever and that, though his home already contained one pretty, young woman (his niece and ward, Cassandra Parbringer), he did not believe that another would go amiss. He did not think that he was at all changed from what he had been and Cassandra was entirely of his opinion, for (she thought to herself) I am sure, sir, that you were every bit as tedious at twenty-one as you are at forty-nine. So Mr. Field married again. The lady was pretty and clever and only a year older than Cassandra, but, in her defense, we may say that she had no money and must either marry Mr. Field or go and be a teacher in a school.
Later Cassandra, the new Mrs. Field, and a friend of theirs were disparaging the famous magicians of the day. "Then, from the particular sins of the great Mr. Strange and even greater Norrell, they were led to talk of the viciousness of men in general, and from there, by a natural progression, to a discussion of whether Cassandra should marry Mr. Woodhope."
If this sounds like your cup of tea with crumpets, by all means get this book and dine away. Make sure to read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell first if you haven't; not so much because you need it to understand the context of the stories, but just because you really should read it. If you have read Strange and Norrell, here are some more delectable morsels from that table. Appetizers are served.