I first read The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke in March 2018, and this review was originally posted on my Goodreads account then. Some minor edits have been made to this review.
To begin with, The Ladies of Grace Adieu is not as good as Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, but is an enjoyable enough collection of short fairytales nonetheless.
Clarke’s narrative voice, as ever, is delightful — dry humor and wit and a rather scholarly lilt — so that was great to come back to. So were the footnotes in “Tom Brightwind;” those are something Clarke has become famous for, and, being a nerd, I really liked seeing them again here (especially the reference to the Hobbit). The addition of “James Sutherland” as the scholar writing notes and the introduction was clever. The return of a few old faces (Jonathan, Arabella, and the Raven King) was also a treat. In general, this reads like traditional tales by the Brothers Grimm or Andersen, yet with Clarke’s excellent tone.
A standout story in this little collection for me was undoubtedly “The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse.” Set in the world of Neil Gaiman’s novel Stardust, this enjoyable tale reads very much like its source material in tone. However, seeing a prominent character from Strange and Norrell (and of course, actual history) was such fun! The odd adventure he went on was so characteristic of the playful, magical, slightly dark but wryly funny tales both Clarke and Gaiman are known for.
However, many of the endings of the stories felt rather abrupt and unfulfilling. I wanted to know more about how the plots ended (perhaps that’s just how Clarke finishes things? Leaving you with questions? After all, the way Strange and Norrell ended left me absolutely desperate for a sequel). And I felt that some of the characters could have been more fleshed out.
Still, if you liked the original novel, this might be a nice read for you if you’re missing Clarke’s writing.
Overall rating: 8/10
Let me know your thoughts on Ladies of Grace Adieu, or, if you haven’t read it, tell me about your favorite short story collection!