In this set of short stories, the author of the dazzling fantasy Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell returns readers to that novel's unique milieu, a vision of 19th-century Britain that combines urbane comedy with the uncanny atmosphere of classic fairy stories. Proper young women who might have stepped from the pages of Mansfield Park practice very un-Austenian magic, a fairy mobilizes a town to help him pursue an object of lust, and a king matches wits with a beggar. At once achingly familiar and completely fresh, Susanna Clarke's stories arrive like postcards from an enchanted kingdom.
Fans of Clarke's bestselling Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrellshould be pleased with this book, as the stories collected here are very much cut from the same cloth. The stories (seven previously published and one original tale, "John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner") deal with fairies and the history of English magic, and are told in the same Victorian style that made JS&MNso distinct. Prebble (who also narrated JS&MN) returns and once again triumphantly brings Clarke's richly imagined world to life. Sharing narrative duties this time around is Porter, who is equally skilled at playing prim and high-born ladies as she is using more folksy tones in "On Lickerish Hill." The footnotes that bogged down the audio edition of JS&MNare mostly absent, and the narrators' very different styles work well to give each story its own distinct feel. A lyrical and thoroughly enjoyable collection from a burgeoning master of fantasy literature. Simultaneous release with the Bloomsbury hardcover (Reviews, July 31). (Nov.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Materials from British folklore are reworked with beguiling narrative energy and mischievous wit in this first collection from the English author of the wonderful adult fantasy Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2004). Two of that book's major characters make vivid reappearances here. In "John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner," the legendary magician the Raven King (aka Uskglass) tramples on a humble woodsman's property while hunting, and is himself humbled when his victim enlists various saints to redress his grievance. In the amusing title story, gentleman sorcerer Jonathan Strange discovers during a country visit that "the magic of wild creatures [notably owls] and the magic of women" are indeed a match for his own. Elsewhere, Mary Queen of Scots, while imprisoned by her rival, England's Elizabeth I, plots revenge through the medium of pictorial embroidery: Still, Elizabeth survives, and Mary loses her head (in "Antickes and Frets"). That tactic achieves better results when a British military hero strays into a remote domicile ruled by similar domestic magic (in "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse"). Odd things will happen, evidently, when mortals join forces or contend with fairy folk. "Tom Brightwind and How the Fairy Bridge Was Built at Thoresby" describes how Tom, a vainglorious and dictatorial otherworldly paterfamilias, is gently persuaded by his best human friend to improve the fortunes of the inhabitants of Thoresby, a village hitherto cut off from the world beyond it. Less benign supernatural intervention operates in tales relating an unhappy young wife's risky escape from her boring old husband ("On Lickerish Hill"); a forsaken fiancee's perilous dealings withthe fairy temptress ("Mrs. Mabb") who has stolen her beloved; and, in "Mr. Simonelli or The Fairy Widower," a country cleric's refusal to be intimidated by a "powerful fairy" landowner's disagreeable habit of seducing and exploiting innocent young women. Irresistible storytelling, from a splendidly gifted enchantress.
From the Publisher
“Vivid and amusing…Magically funny.” Ursula K. LeGuin, Los Angeles Times
“Captivating…an enticing introduction to Clarke's alternate universe.” People (4 stars, Critic's Choice)
“The prose is consistently flawless and beautiful. Reading Clarke is like inspecting some wonderful antiquated craft, such as marquetry or fine hand embroidery.” Washington Post
“Offers a rich, redoubtable vision…Lean, lovely, and witty.” Entertainment Weekly
“The writing is captivating, the characters charming, and the notion that perhaps there's more to reality than what our senses tell us is, as Clarke might say with a smile, simply enchanting.” Nancy Pearl, NPR