Monday, May 6, 2013

Review: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Queen Victoria's Book of Spells

Shellie’s review for Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.

Shellie’s quick take:  A fantastical and intellectual collection of stories termed “Gaslamp” (set within Victorian times) with dark themes.

Shellie’s thoughts:   What is Gaslamp fantasy? It’s fantasy set within the time when gas lamps lit England, before electric lights. So there can be a flavor of steampunk, but gaslamp is a broader genre as reflected by these stories.

In their stories the authors from this collection take “a poke” at the era with its blatant superior belief systems and its male-dominated and class-ridden social structure - as Terry Windling excellently addresses in the beginning to this anthology with her Introduction: Fantasy, Magic, and Fairyland in Nineteenth-Century England. Here the author academically describes how fantasy and magic where seen during Victorian times in England, setting the stage for the stories in this collection.

With eighteen stories, I did not love every one (some of the writing styles where difficult for me to digest), so I have only listed my very favorites. In my opinion these short stories definitely make the book worth the read. Each favored title has a short description including my quick thoughts – perhaps to persuade you to pick up and read one or two.

The Fairy Enterprise” by Jeffrey Ford - An arrogant industrialist has an idea on how to make money by using fairies. It is wonderfully horrific and has a revengeful ending. I love great revenge stories.

From the Catalogue of the Pavilion of the Uncanny and Marvelous, Scheduled for Premiere at the Great Exhibition (Before the Fire)” by Genevieve Valentine - An unusually told story based upon a true event – The Great Exhibit of 1851 in London and the fire. The story creatively catalogs the fantastical items which where lost in the fire which destroyed the exhibit.

The Governess” by Elizabeth Bear - Is a dark feminist take on the selkie myth and is one of my top picks for the collection.

The Unwanted Women of Surrey” by Kaaron Warren  - A story set around a group of women whose husbands keep them in a home and away from their families for various reasons. The women get involved in some horrific mischief that is particularly memorable and historically significant to the era.

Phosphorus” by Veronica Shanoes - And lastly another big favorite of mine is the dark tale based upon the women workers who made matches during the era; they worked under terrible circumstances and absorbed some of the phosphorus from the matches into their bodies.

What I liked about my favorites is that they had an accessible writing style where I was absorbed into the stories; and most brought to light some of aspect of real life horror happening during the time.

In the end I recommend this book for readers looking for a dark fantastic journey into Victorian England, especially readers who enjoy the literature from the era. I’d give 3.5 stars for this short story collection.


Tor Books; March 2013; Trade Paperback; 352 pages.

8 comments:

ediFanoB said...

Thank you for your review which I read with interest.
I think it happens often that one do not like all stories of an anthology.

The biggest advantage of such kind of books is to get a first impression of many different authors.


By the way I'm on holiday for the next two weeks. Therefore there will be no comments from my side :-)

Shellie Nunn said...

Hi Edi -
Yes, I agree and each of the stories that I enjoyed from this collection was from an author that I have not read. So I have found a handful of new authors to search for and enjoy.

I also find that sometimes I enjoy an author's short stories rather than novels more (or visa versa) depending on the story.

I hope that you have a fabulous vacation/holiday!

April @ My Shelf Confessions said...

I totally need to get my hands on this! I love the Victorian era and creepy.. and steampunk and this seems to have a flavor all it's own, which is awesome!

Great review! :D

Shellie Nunn said...

Hi April -
Thank you. *smile*

If you like or love Victoriana and Victorian styled writing and dark fantasy then you will love this collection. There's not too much "steam punk" in this collection.

I hope you enjoy the stories that I loved as much as I did.

Carl V. Anderson said...

I picked this up right when it came out and need to make an effort to get to it sometime soon. Love the cover. The artist, Allen Williams, won an award a week ago at the Spectrum 20 Awards show. He was very emotional and grateful and it was nice to see.

Shellie Nunn said...

Thanks Carl -

I can see why the artist won an award, even though I didn't feel like this cover completely worked for this collection (in my opinion.)Too much detail goes missing unless you hold the copy in your hands.

But I will be doing some research on this artist now that you have given me his name.

Carl V. Anderson said...

I picked it up in large part because of the cover, but also on the reputation of the editors too. The cover looks so much better in person, in my opinion, because the book itself is lovely. Great texture, etc. The image in much larger form, which I saw in print at the show, was gorgeous.

Shellie Nunn said...

Carl -
I just checked out the artist's web page and think this book's cover does not do the artist justice. He's amazing. And it looks like that the cover was created for one of the stories in the collection.

I picked this book up because of the editors and subject matter.. (not the cover) glad I did since there were some wonderful stories in the collection.

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