Welcome to the Preternatura “Drive-By Reviews.” It’s my way of passing along books in my TBR Pile on Steroids to you. I read the first 50 or so pages of a book (might be new, might be not-so-new), tell you what I like or didn’t like, and give it a grade of A (wish I had time to finish it, and resent that I have so little reading time these days); B (I’m not head-over-heels but I am interested enough to keep going); or C (I’d keep reading but there are some red flags for me). If it’s a DNF, I won’t cover it at all.
First, though, the second episode of my serial novel Storm Force (written as Susannah Sandlin) comes out today! For those of you taking a chance on the serial, many thanks and I hope you enjoy the rollercoaster ride! If you haven’t tried it and own a Kindle (or don’t mind using a Kindle app on your computer, tablet or phone), it’s only $1.99 for the whole book as a serial, with a new “episode” (four chapters) auto-downloaded every Tuesday until the book is done). You can learn more about it here. Also, I have an interview up over at the Paws and Print website, with one commenter winning a $10 Amazon or B-and-N gift card. So head on over!
Okay, commercial done.
Today’s book is a brand new one, an Ellen Datlow-Terry Windling-edited anthology called Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy. Read on for a chance to win a copy!
ABOUT QUEEN VICTORIA’S BOOK OF SPELLS: “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 Brontës, 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.
Instead of reading fifty pages from the front, in this book I hopped around and read the intro and the stories by Elizabeth Bear and by Catherynne M. Valente, which I realize might not exactly be fair since all the authors represented are very different and the stories are only loosely related by genre. But that’s about the best I can do with an anthology.
If you’ve read this website for long, you know I have a love-hate relationship with short stories. I find them incredibly difficult to write, and so I admire authors who are good at it. I also don’t like reading them that much, which might be why I have such trouble writing them. So realize that I go into this book with that prejudice and am not likely to ever give an anthology an “A.” You should look at my grade as more of a reflection of me than of the book.
That having been said, I did enjoy both of the stories I read..eventually. I mistook “gaslamp fantasy” for “steampunk,” so there was some adjustment when I realized that, no, these are NOT steampunk stories. They are simply fantasy stories that take place in the Victorian period. I was a huge fan of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, however, so once I made that adjustment to my expectations I was happy to read along. I should add that I (gasp) am not a fan of Jane Austen, however, even when she’s turned into a vampire.
So if you’ve read any gaslamp fantasy (think Mary Robinette Kowal, perhaps), you’ll realize it’s a slower paced read, with denser description than what us heathen urban fantasy readers are accustomed to. Catherynne Valente’s story was especially charming in an “uber polite Brit Alice in Wonderland” sort of way. Yes, I still kind of flipped ahead a few times to see how many pages were left.
The Verdict. I’ve spent more time in this “review” talking about why I’m a really poor choice of reviewer for this book, which I realize isn’t fair. So let’s say this: If you like gaslamp fantasy, fantasies of manners, or the Victorian era with magic, you’re probably going to love this because there are some exceptional authors represented. And anthologies are a great way to try out authors that are new to you (for example I now know that Catherynne Valente has an exquisite mastery of languge, sigh). So while this book is a “C” for me, it might well be an “A” for you.
The Contest: Want to try a copy of Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells? Just leave a comment to be entered. (If you want to tweet/RT the contest, terrific…but not necessary for entering on this one.)