Victorian Gaslamp Fantasy
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells
If you're looking for a little light reading that you can dip into, then an anthology of short stories is perfect. This one intrigued me immediately because of the very title - Queen Victoria's Book of Spells. That's an attention-getter.
The book contains eighteen fictional stories by different authors but each has the common theme of nineteenth century England and mysticism. Although the stories are fictional, many are based on reality.
As with most anthologies of this type, there is a wide variety of different styles and stories - some, to me the most enjoyable - are the ones that are based on fact but given a delicious little twist to add a mystical element.
The first, after which the book is named, is an excellent story and piques the interest. In addition, I particularly liked the following:
- The Memory Book
- The Governess
- The Unwanted Women of Surrey
Probably the most powerful story is Phosphorus, inspired by the 1888 Match Girls' Strike in London. The employees of a match factory drew attention to the terrible conditions in which they worked, including the completely horrendous 'phossy jaw' - a terrible (and fatal) illness brought about by working with white phosphorus.
This gives you some idea of what to expect from this fascinating book.
Some of the stories have a supernatural-but-almost-believable aspect. Others are pure fantasy but all show us a side of Victorian England that has been largely overlooked.
It was a strange era. People were still incredibly superstitious but it was also a time of technological advances (and it is this combination that largely engendered the steampunk craze of the 1980s and 90s.)
If you're new to the 'gaslamp fantasy' genre (as I was) this is a great introduction. If it's a genre you already love, then you can't go wrong with this collection.
A reader's review
You might also be interested in reading this fascinating book.
You may find it strange that I've included one of the Back to the Future films here but there's a good reason. This film was one of the earliest mainstream movies with a strong steampunk feel.
The Victorian era was unique in that there were natural conflicts in the human mind.The world was becoming more technological but old superstitions lingered.
The originator of the steampunk genre literature is usually acknowledged as being this author. (It's said that the term was coined specifically to describe his books in the 1980s).The main concept behind this genre is that they imitate - and go beyond - the works of Victorian writers such as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and other authors from this fascinating era.
If you're unfamiliar with the genre, then it's likely that you know this film which is an essential part of ny home movie collection.Made in 1990, it is the ultimate steampunk-gaslamp fantasy story. Set in the Victorian era, (well, mostly) it demonstrates the conflicts of that time in history - science versus superstition.
Do bear in mind that the stories in this book were written by different people. This is what gives it an additional sparkle but it also means that the writers are of varying skill and experience levels. Whilst some seem to be polished writers others appear to be written for school assignments - although this in no way detracts from the pleasure of this book.
If you dip into the book, and find that the story you are reading is not for you, that is not indicative of the entire book being as it is by a selection of various writers.You're bound to have your own favourites.
Some of the stories are excellently researched - other less so. One very noticeable error was the use of modern American terms coming from the lips of Victorian characters. This distracted me (being British!) although others many not even notice.
Some of these writers are obviously new and still perfecting their craft but that takes nothing away from this book as a whole.
In all, this is a recommended book and was well-received by critics and reviewers - both professional and amateur.