"Gaslamp fantasy", or historical fantasy set in a magical version of the nineteenth century, has long been popular with readers and writers alike. A number of wonderful fantasy novels, including Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and The Prestige by Christopher Priest owe their inspiration to works by nineteenth-century writers ranging from Jane Austen, the Brontes, and George Meredith to Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and William Morris. And, of course, the entire steampunk genre and subculture owes more than a little to literature inspired by this period.
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells is an anthology for everyone who loves these works of neo-Victorian fiction and wishes to explore the wide variety of ways that modern fantasists are using nineteenth-century settings, characters, and themes. These approaches stretch from steampunk fiction to the Austen-and-Trollope inspired works that some critics call "fantasy of manners", all of which fit under the larger umbrella of gaslamp fantasy. The result is 18 stories by experts from the fantasy, horror, mainstream, and young adult fields, including both best-selling writers and exciting new talents such as Elizabeth Bear, James Blaylock, Jeffrey Ford, Ellen Kushner, Tanith Lee, Gregory Maguire, Delia Sherman, and Catherynne M. Valente, who present a bewitching vision of a nineteenth-century invested (or cursed!) with magic.
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A Delicious Entrée to Gaslamp Fantasy
According to Amazon, Gaslamp fantasy is "historical fantasy set in a magical version of the Nineteenth Century." While its first cousin Steampunk emphasizes mechanics, science and steam power, Gaslamp plays with magical possibilities.
This anthology includes spinoffs of Dickens and references to real people of the Victorian era. Queen Vicki herself gets a cameo in at least two stories. One of her prime ministers, Benjamin Disraeli, stars in The Jewel in the Toad Queen's Crown while William Morris, textile designer, poet, translator and social activist, takes the stage in the story For the Briar Rose. This is definitely one of those books that whets your thirst for more information. I have a brand new fascination with both Morris and Disraeli and can't wait to see where these rabbit holes lead me!
I listened to the audio version of this book. It's one I wish I had read instead. Three of the stories are epistolary, which sometimes doesn't lend itself to audio. The performance by narrator Kelly Lintz was fine, but it's a book to dip into again and again. I will probably end up buying a physical copy for my shelves.
The list below includes what I felt were the standout stories:
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells by Delia Sherman (Epistolary - entries in a young Victoria's diaries as she learns magic)
Phosphorous by Veronica Schanoes (Some very interesting social history here.)
The Vital Importance of the Superficial by Ellen Kushner and Caroline Stervener (Epistolary, and superbly done.)
A Few Twigs He Left Behind by Gregory Maguire (A fascinating epilogue of Scrooge)
Maguire's offering in particular left me hankering for more of his writing (which surprised me because Wicked (the book) was not a big winner with me). I will also seek out works by Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner. Book one of the Tremontaine series (Kushner) has been ordered…
- Amazon Customer