Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Gaslamp Stories

I got to discover a new genre with my most recent book...well it was less of a discovery and more finding out there was a name for it.  The book is Queen Victoria's Book of Spells a short story collection edited by my favorites Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.  It is a collection of stories that are set in the Victorian era and in general feature a very subtle style of magic with some stories popping in some steampunk for good measure.  This genre is apparently called Gaslamp Fantasy, which is awesome sounding so I'm on board.  This was as always a great collection by these two women.  Here are a few of my favorites.
The Fairy Enterprise by Jeffery Ford - This is a cheeky little story about a man who is pretty awful.  He decides to use the local superstitions to "grow faries" and sell them to whoever will buy them.  His plan is actually pretty ingenious...if not completely dishonest.  He as in all good stories gets his comeuppance when it turns out the faries are real and have a a vengeful streak.  He is devoured from the inside and we all cheer.  Good story.

The Memory Book by Maureen McHugh - This story is perfect for reading on a dreary dark day.  It is equal parts creepy, sad, horrifying and to the point.  Laura Ann is a girl of reduced means who has discovered that if she uses her special memory book, she can influence those around her in unpredictable ways.  The part I liked the best is that the results would come about in unexpected ways, and yet still recognizable from what Laura Ann put in her book.  Good fall story.

For The Briar Rose by Elizabeth Wein - This is probably my favorite story in the collection.  It brings together history, art, magical realism and an atmosphere that stuck with me.  It is a semi-fictionalized version of the life of Margaret Burne-Jones the daughter of Edward Burne-Jones an artist.  This story inspired a ton of research and reminded me how much I love the Aestheticism and Pre-Ralphite styles.  To me this is what story telling is all about and it has inspired me in many good ways.

Phosphorus by Veronica Schanoes - This is another story based in historical fact with a twist of magic.  We meet our narrator, a young poor woman of London who works in a match factory under heinous conditions.  She has acquired what is known as phossy jaw, a debilitating condition that leads to death in most cases.  Her Nan performs some subtle old school magic (which involves her own death...aw) to ensure that our narrator will live long enough to see the big rally that will hopefully improve conditions for the girls.  It succeeds and I go off on another research tangent.

The Vital Importance of the Superficial by Ellen Kushner and Caroline Stevemer - This is the kind of story that just makes me happy.  It is written in a back and forth letter style and is just so much fun.  Considering that this format could get confusing the story, personalities and vibe came through very nicely.  I love this kind of story because it balances wit and substance in a way that makes me smile.  I don't know what else I can say without rehashing the whole story, but it is immensely readable and awesome.
This is just a sample of the great stories in this collection, I like all of them to varying degrees for a myriad of reasons.  It felt new and fresh...even though I have read these types of stories before.  I feel that is a testament to the editors care in putting together a new collection that is exciting and varied.  This book encouraged me to go research any number of things (partly inspiring last weeks down the rabbit hole post) and also makes me want go go buy a bunch more books.  I recommend this book to anybody who has an interest in the Victorian era, likes magic without all the big flash and bang of full on fantasy or just wants some cool new stories.  I give this collection 8 out of ten World Expo's and will now run out to the bookstore for more of these stories.  Happy Reading Everybody!

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