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4.3 out of 5 stars69
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 28 May 2013
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is definitely in my top twenty books list so when I came across this slim volume of eight previously published stories based on the same characters and ideas from that novel I just had to read it. Only I didn't just read it I devoured it in an evening and reread each story more slowly the next.
The world Susanna Clarke has created - a Regency England where magic has shaped its history, magicians practice their art and one, The Raven King, once ruled the North; where fairies, malevolent or benign, exist alongside men and women who may either be helped by them or be kidnapped by them into 'other' lands - is witty, delightful and beyond compare.It's Arthurian Legend dressed in a frock coat. It's English mythos channelled through Jane Austen. I love it!
My favourite story - Mr Simonelli or The Fairy Widower -fits firmly in the latter mould with the hapless hero, a Reverend Gentleman, pitting wits with a particularly wicked fairy leading him to an unexpected discovery, whilst trying to improve his prospects by courting some rich young ladies!
In the other stories The Duke of Wellington and Mary, Queen of Scots make appearances, as does The Raven King himself in a moral tale that is as funny as it is charming.
The fact that Susanna Clarke has chosen the quality not quantity route of writing, (though JS&MN is a massive novel it took some years to write), makes each story in this book rare and precious. I await more with patience...
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Susanna Clarke's much-acclaimed 2004 novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell explored a world in which real English history and fairy folklore are deeply entwined, where magicians aided in the war against Napoleon and fairy lords intervened in mortal affairs to no good end. Since Clarke took ten years to write the novel, a sequel or follow-up was probably not going to appear soon, so author and publishers chose to release a collection of short stories as a stop-gap in 2006.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories collects together eight short stories, all of them previously available (apart from the last one) and most of them set in the same alternate reality as Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (though one, 'The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse', actually takes place in the setting of Neil Gaiman's novel Stardust). For the most part the writing style is similar to that of the more celebrated novel, a mixture of whimsy and more serious themes played out with a writing style reminiscent of Victorian literature at its most elaborate although, thankfully, not its most verbose.

The opening and titular story is about three women in a Gloucestershire village who meet Jonathan Strange. It was Clarke's first published story (appearing eight years before the novel) and is impressive in its confidence. In the novel, female characters were on the sidelines, but here take centre stage, to Strange's amusing befuddlement. There's some subtle characterisation and some interesting inversions of both 19th Century novels and fantasy books in general (particularly their treatment of women) and it's all extremely readable. 'On Lickerish Hill' entertains but is less successful, being a rather straightforward rewrite of a classic children's character for no real gain. 'Mrs. Mabb' returns to the theme of the role of women in Victorian literature, playing around with the stereotypical depiction of abused or suffering women as hysterical wretches, and is one of the more successful stories in the collection.

'The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse' is fairly predictable, and its use of the Wall setting from Stardust feels unnecessary. 'Mr. Simonelli' is probably the highlight of the collection, featuring the titular character falling afoul of a fairy relative and having to save the five Gathercole sisters from the fairy's dubious carnal interests. The way the protagonists spar over high stakes whilst maintaining a polite and pleasant level of discourse recalls Jack Vance at his most creative. 'Tom Brightwind' is also amusing, featuring as it does a fairy/human double-act about whom more adventures could be told. 'Antickes and Frets' features Mary, Queen of Scots attempting to utilise magic to bring down her rival Elizabeth I from inside prison, to mixed results, and is one of the slighter stories in the book. Things conclude with 'John Uskglass', in which the titular, ultra-powerful character is brought low by a peasant (albeit one backed up by the firepower of some annoyed saints), which again amuses but little more.

As a collection, The Ladies of Grace Adieu manages the tricky feat of retaining a common prose style (which it also shares with the novel) whilst injecting a variety of tone. Some of the stories are darker and more grim than others, whilst some are comedic or satirical. Clarke proves adept at using these different tones and creating interesting characters (none moreso than the Brightwind/Montefiore duo) and situations. A particular success here is pacing. Whilst Jonathan Strange was a five-star, 600-page masterpiece undone by being 950 pages long and featuring a long, agonisingly drawn-out ending that sapped the book of much of its narrative vigour, this collection is understated and concise, knowing when to end the story and move on. Whilst the stories cannot hope to match the epic scope and depth of the novel, they also reject some of its more obvious flaws, and show that Clarke is a skilled and interesting author (and, hopefully, one who is not too many more years away from unveiling her next full novel).

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories (****) is a fine companion-piece to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, though it does not drift too far away from its setting or tone. It is available now in the UK and USA.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 December 2009
Very much in the style of her wonderful novel Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, a fantasy which links with old English and Scottish legends about the faerie origins of magic in our islands, this book plays with the idea that magic still existed, up until around the Regency period, when, no doubt, modern ideas of rationality finally stamped it out.

Faerie origins in Clarke's elegant and sinister depictions are not pretty little things akin to butterflies, but man-sized (if they want to be), and invisible until they deem to be otherwise. They can charm the gullible into believing anything, and they often have designs on innocent wayfarers. There is an erotic edge to some of this which is seductive without being overt. Jonathan Strange makes an appearance in one of these stories, and in another a take upon the Rumplestiltskin story is enacted with panache, but the story that really tickled me was one about Mary Queen of Scots in the care of the Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife Bess of Hardwicke, while Elizabeth I was deciding whether or not she wanted to cut off her head. Delightfully left-field, this charming collection of short stories is a distinct pleasure.
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on 4 November 2012
This is a collection of short stories from the author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I am a bit of a fairytale junkie and as the stories in this book are based on traditional English fairytales I had fun working out the source tale for each tale, but it also meant that they didn't appear as original to me. What is original is the way Clarke presents this world where the faerie lives alongside a realistic England in the early nineteenth century. The only other writer I can think of who has achieved something similar is Neil Gaiman in his story Stardust (which is referenced in Clarke's story "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse"). Clarke's writing voice is Austenesque (whilst not feeling over-forced) which adds to that impact of her magic realism. Inevitably some stories worked better for me than others - my personal favourites were The Ladies of Grace Adieu, Mr Simonelli or the Fairy Widower and Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge Was Built at Thoresby.
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on 28 March 2013
Yet more magical story telling from this wonderful author. A collection of sublime tales that whisk you away from our mundane world to a place both recognizable yet mysterious. This book could only be improved by being longer!
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on 7 December 2007
I have had cause to speak of Miss Clarke's writings before, in connexion with her work Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and therein the chief critickism I had to make was as to the length of that novel, which I judged to be some two hundred pages (out of eight hundred) too long. No such cavil attends the remarks I wish to make of this present collection, which consists of a number of shorter tales, set within the same fantastickal and fascinating other-England of the longer book. Each and all are nothing less than a delight from beginning to end. Miss Clarke has a remarkable facility for evoking the strange and alarming world of Faerie, and creates a truly enchanting atmosphere when writing of it and of the ways in which men and women can become entangled in it. As if that were not enough, she swims in the English language as a dolphin might swim in the Ocean, playing and leaping through its currents and tides with a sly smile on her face. To read stories at once so absorbing and so witty, and with such finely drawn characters, is a rare delight, and I for one can scarcely bear to wait for her promised sequel to her original novel, and learn more of her original and marvellous other-England, and of the men and women she has peopled it with - most especially that fascinating and enigmatic figure John Uskglass, the Raven King.

Addendum: I note that a moving picture is to be made of the adventures of Messrs Strange & Norrell. No good can come of this.
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on 5 August 2015
I don't need to sing the praises of Susanna Clarke or The Ladies of Grace Adieu - it's been done enough. I would like to point out that this Kindle edition, at least as of this writing, has plenty of errors, such as come from scanning text and not proof-reading it. "King" becomes "Icing" and so on. The publisher should review the file and correct these errors. If you're particularly averse to this kind of thing, consider buying the print copy instead.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 11 September 2013
THE LADIES OF GRACE ADIEU is a collection of short stories, all of which have a fairytale twist to them. As with all collections, some of the stories are better than others; personally my favourite is "Mrs Mabb". What I like about all of the stories is that Clarke has adapted her writing style, trying to make them seem as authentic as possible. There is dark humour, hidden messages and she has adopted old spellings for words (or just changed them for her purpose), to make it feel more genuine. The reason I have only awarded three stars is because some of the stories were weaker than others. However, I am now eager to read her previous novel, JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORELL.
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on 9 June 2015
I love the writing and the stories here - but the editorial of the Kindle book was dreadful - so many errors and typos and incorrect symbols that I sometimes had to carefully work out what the word actually said. Shoddy!
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on 11 May 2013
Susannah Clarke must be one of the best writers in the world. Her imagination, giving us the world of 'Faerie' is fantastic. For those who enjoyed 'Jonthan Strange & Mr Norrell' this is also a great book of short stories which transports you to an older England and a magical world.
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