Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Queen Victoria's Book of Spells

Queen Victoria's Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

“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 Bront√ęs, 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 eighteen stories by experts from the fantasy, horror, mainstream, and young adult fields, including both bestselling 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. -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Oh Datlow and Windling, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Your anthologies, especially The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest, are astoundingly good and helped to cement my love of folklore and speculative fiction. Not only do you collect stellar stories from many of the best authors writing today, but you do so with lovely cover art and FANTASTIC essay/forewards that are enlightening and entertaining. *deep contented sigh*

Can you tell I loved this one? I love Gaslamp Fantasy anyway (Stardust is one of my favorite books of All Time), not to mention 19th century writers like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and let me just head this sentence off before it gets away from me, shall I? This is worth reading for the editors' essays at the beginning alone, but luckily several of the stories are memorable and wonderful and full of period details- and magic, of course. 

I loved Delia Sherman's "Queen Victoria's Book of Spells" (hey, isn't that the title of the book?), the story of a modern day researcher/spell detangler working his way through a previously undiscovered journal/spellbook belonging to the young queen. A story about the Great Exhibition was a little tricky to get into, but offered a tantalizing description of that spectacle. One of my favorites was about a certain author's (never named, but strongly hinted at) attempts to photograph the last nights of an unelectrified London. There was a story about Edison being a Grade A jerk (as we know he was, all hail Tesla, the true Electric King), and one about the last days of Ebeneezer Scrooge, post-Christmas miracle. There's even another story based on Pre-Raphaelite artists, as if the world knew how delighted I was with Patricia A. McKillip's "The Kelpie" from Wonders of the Invisible World and deigned to nudge another similar story my way. Bliss.

Brew some tea, put on your favorite fingerless gloves, dim the lights, and settle in.


Tiffany H said...

I've never heard the term "gaslamp fantasy" but it hits the nail on the head, doesn't it? :)

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