The Ladies of Grace Adieu (and Other Stories)
“Little human child, the time has come to be afraid.”
The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories is a collection of short stories by Susanna Clarke, the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Clarke uses the same setting (England) and theme (magic) of that novel to write these, although not all of her stories occur at the same time or with the same characters. The first and main story, “The Ladies of Grace Adieu,” is about a clever witch trio that meets Mr. Jonathan Strange while one of them is trying to avoid marriage with his brother-in-law. Other stories include a version of Rumplestiltskin, journal entries from a half-fairy parishioner, and a legend of the Raven King (the most powerful magical figure ever to exist).
Clarke perfectly combines fiction, history, and legend in each of these stories. The individual plots read like fairy tales but have the advantage of highly developed characters, including fiercely independent women, arrogant fairy princes, kindly middle-aged doctors, and more. She also ties in historical characters, such as the Duke of Wellington and Queen Elizabeth I, while remaining true to her own magical world. Yet Clarke’s most interesting stylistic detail is that she frames everything in the collection as if it were entirely historically accurate, even though she has created it herself. For instance, she includes an introduction by Professor James Sutherland, Director of Sidhe Studies, when neither the person nor the field of study exists. She acts as if this professor has compiled these stories as a way of studying magic, and even includes detailed footnotes to add to the feeling of historical truth.
The biggest problem I found while reading was that the stories–due to their similar theme and setting–tended to blend in my head and I occasionally had difficulty matching characters to plots. However, this does not have to be considered a disadvantage–since these are quite similar to fairy tales, the purpose of the author is probably to leave general impressions of plot rather than exact character names.
Overall, each story is highly enjoyable and I would recommend these to anybody. Though I would like to point out that this collection is to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell as The Tales of Beedle the Bard is to the Harry Potter series. Although you can read the collection first and it would make sense, most people read it only to gain more insight into the world of the larger novel(s). I read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell first, and would recommend that others do the same.