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All the faerie young ladies

A short story collection ideal for readers hungry for fairy tales for grown-ups.

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Do you believe in fairies? Or rather, how did you respond to that question when Peter Pan was trying to save Tinker Bell?

If you clapped till your palms were sore when you were 5, but felt rather as if the question was violating your privacy later in life (clapping out of politeness or so that your younger sibling wouldn't think you were trying to off Ms. Bell), I believe I may have a book for you.

(If you instead sat on your hands, then no fantasy, no matter how dryly witty and erudite, is likely to appear on your bookshelf. Please go and read "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire" – unabridged – and leave the rest of us to our fairy tales.)

There's not a hint of preciousness in the eight stories that make up Susanna Clarke's fantasy story collection The Ladies of Grace Adieu – in fact, the Los Angeles Times dubbed the book "fairy tales for cynics."

"Tom Brightwind – loud, egotistical, and six feet tall – was most emphatically not the sort of fairy that Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dodgson hoped to find at the bottom of their gardens," writes Professor James Sutherland of the University of Aberdeen, the "scholar" who ostensibly put together the collection.

As fans of her brilliantly inventive 2004 novel, "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell," already know, Clarke has envisioned an alternate Georgian England in which the study of magic (which reached its heights during the Renaissance) had dwindled until it become strictly theoretical – until two men, the pedantic Gilbert Norrell and his protégé Jonathan Strange, made the study practical once again.

And as readers also know, one of the chief delights of that novel was the elaborate footnotes, written in a mock-scholarly style. Thanks to "Professor Sutherland," there's plenty of deadpan erudition in "The Ladies of Grace Adieu."


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