I've started reading Susanna Clarke's The Ladies of Grace Adieu. It's serving two purposes--hopefully it will be the first of several short story anthologies that I read this year, and it is one of the books I've chosen to read for The Once Upon a Time Challenge (am still contemplating which novel to start). There's a catch, and I'm not sure how much it matters. I've not yet read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, though after reading the first story in the collection, I've gone and dug the book out and set it on one of the closer TBR piles. Still, I know I can't start another lengthy novel now, so it's just going to have to wait its turn.
Although I got on just fine with the title story of the collection, "The Ladies of Grace Adieu", I'm wondering what I'm missing out on not having read the novel first. From what I understand this story is the result of a footnote from the novel. Mr. Strange and his wife make an appearance in it, too. Part of me feels like I'm standing outside looking in and maybe missing some of the references. Of course maybe that's my own weird perception. In any case, maybe order doesn't matter in this instance, and when I do get to the novel, I'll already have some knowledge of characters and other details.
The book begins with an introduction by Professor James Sutherland, Director of Sidhe (fairy) Studies at the University of Aberdeen. There are two aims the professor has in this story collection:
"The first is to throw some sort of light on the development of magic in the British Isles at different periods; the second is to introduce the reader to some of the ways in which Faerie can impinge upon our own quotidian world, in other words to create a sort of primer to Faerie and fairies."
Grace Adieu is a small town in the English countryside. The time is the early nineteenth century, and while there are no fairies in this story, there are female magicians, three to be exact--Cassandra Parbringer, Mrs. Field, and Miss Tobias, all young and very close friends. Cassandra lives with her uncle, who upon the death of his wife marries a much younger woman. Cassandra and Mrs. Field (the second) are far more fond of each other than of Mr. Field. Miss Tobias is a governess to two young girls living in the village's great house, Winter's Realm (isn't that a wonderful name?).
It may not surprise you that the work of female magicians was dismissed by their male counterparts in the Victorian era. The magic that occurs in this story is not of the malicious sort. Not really anyway. There's some mischief afoot. When Captain Winbright, along with two companions, come to Winter's Realm to visit his young nieces, they stir up trouble. Perhaps he's more interested in a little inheritance than in familial love? As the story says:
"Above all remember this: that magic belongs as much to the heart as to the head and everything which is done, should be done from love or joy or righteous anger."
The story is a wonderful mixture of magic and mythology (must learn more about the Raven King), even if it's the made up sort. Grace Adieu is not such an unlikely town that you might find it anywhere in Victorian England. I enjoyed the atmosphere and the characters, which makes me think I'll like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell very much. I'm curious what other surprises are in store in this short story collection first, however.