The Ladies of Grace Adieu

I was delighted when my oldest son handed me a collection of short stories by Susanna Clark, the author of one of my favorite books, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I hadn't realized that this book, called The Ladies of Grace Adieu, existed so it was quite a nice surprise. The stories take place in the same universe as Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell; a historical England where magic is possible but has fallen out of favor for a long time. Just like the novel, the stories are lyrical and wonderful, redolent with the flavor of the mystical; feeling like anything can happen.

I’d read The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse once before. I believe Neil Gaiman linked us to it. The story takes place in and near Wall, the town on the edge of the faerie world in Neil's book Stardust. The Duke of Wellington is the proudest man in England and runs into trouble almost right away when he isn't treated with the deference he believes he deserves. The residents of Wall don't believe that any man is better than they are, even a man who has twice conquered Napoleon, and the Duke and the townspeople begin to quarrel. As a result the Duke ends up in faerie, where he is quickly over his head. There are some things military training doesn't prepare you for. You can read the beginning of this story here: http://www.jonathanstrange.com/copy.asp?s=5&id=26.

The title story is an intriguing story about three ladies with little money or social power who are trying to protect themselves and two young children. One of them is a governess, one of them is married to a very dull man and the third has caught the eye of a young fellow who is neither interesting nor clever. The governess takes care of some lively children who are heir to a great fortune. If something were to happen to them their money would pass on to a cad, who seems quite interested in what sorts of ailments or accidents might befall small children. The ladies must band together to try and find a way to keep everyone safe.

John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner is a super cute retelling of a fairy tale about a confused powerful fairy magician and a somewhat incoherent charcoal burner. John Uskglass is hunting with a bunch of others when he accidently tramples everything the charcoal burner owns. To make matters worse, he gets tangled up with the charcoal burner's beloved pig and finally turns the pig into a salmon, leaving the charcoal burner with rage in his heart. The charcoal burner visits a succession of saints, seeking revenge, with hilarious results. You can read the beginning of this story here: http://www.jonathanstrange.com/copy.asp?s=5&id=27.

Ms. Clark's prose is as lyrical and vivid as ever and her wit is sharper than a fairy's blade. She is adept at tossing in little comments that leave me chuckling. For instance in one story she describes a couple, saying one of them has the job of supplying the talk and one of them supplies the silence. This perfectly sums up several couples I know.

The collection is illustrated by Charles Vess, who is one of my favorites and particularly suited for the task as he is a master at making new drawings that evoke the gorgeous illustrations of the past. He did the artwork for Stardust as well as Neil Gaiman's Blueberry Girl and a ton of other fabulous projects. His illustrations add just the right touch to this anthology.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Tom, who says, "I finally got around to watching Slumdog Millionaire. Holy crap! I never saw so many bad things happen to little kids before. It made me want to join the Peace Corps." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.