Picks and Pans Review: The Ladies of Grace Adieu

updated 11/13/2006 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/13/2006 AT 01:00 AM EST

By Susanna Clarke

For readers hesitant to face the 800 pages of Clarke's tour de force novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, these captivating if sometimes elusive stories are an enticing introduction to Clarke's alternate universe—a 19th-century England where faeries and magic have as great an impact on human events as psychology or politics. There is nothing fey or genteel about the faeries alive in this England. Their animal instincts and sexuality frequently overpower bland human morality. Mary of Scotland and the Duke of Marlborough allow their supernatural influence to alter their lives in two of the stories. Elsewhere their magic wreaks sexual havoc on aristocrats and commoners alike. Occasionally humans do make friends within the faerie world—notably a Jewish doctor whose outsider status gives him common ground with his gentrified faerie friend and Mr. Strange, Clarke's earlier magician-protagonist, who makes a cameo appearance. Even the slightest tales have a weird irreducible logic as Clarke fuses a careful rendering of social manners and mores with occult magical fantasy.

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