Eighteen tales of gaslamp fantasy, that is, historical fantasy set in an alternate 19th century where magic worked or supernatural events occurred, together with an extensive and informative introduction from editor Windling tracing historical roots and adding context.
A majority of the tales here use historical events or biography as their foundation. Delia Sherman, then, portrays Queen Victoria as a highly effective wizard. Genevieve Valentine probes a highly unsavory aspect of London’s 1851 Great Exhibition. Elizabeth Wein spins a tale of writer-designer William Morris and artist Edward Burne-Jones. Kaaron Warren writes movingly of a house where unwanted women are confined and how they gain revenge. Dale Bailey takes an actual case of spiritualism and fakery and demonstrates how it is not always clear which is which. Veronica Schanoes strikes sparks both real and figurative in her account of the unionization of the all-female workforce at a lucifer-match factory. And Jane Yolen reimagines the relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and Queen Victoria. Other tales take their inspiration from Victorian literature. Catherynne M. Valente, for instance, revisits the fantasies of the Brontë children. Tanith Lee offers a steampunk variant on the Frankenstein’s Monster theme. In Gregory Maguire’s continuation of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge marries and has children, and Tiny Tim’s life takes an unexpected turn. And Theodora Goss offers up an existential literary-games scenario à la Jasper Fforde. Elsewhere (via Jeffrey Ford, Ellen Kushner and Caroline Stevermer, Maureen McHugh, Kathe Koja, Elizabeth Bear, James P. Blaylock and Leanna Renee Hieber), the fiction is purer, the surprises no less welcome.
Splendid tales that illuminate a bygone era’s darker corners.