First, HAPPY MARDI GRAS! Wish I was in NOLA today but the next-best thing? Wearing a purple jacket and “schwimp” Mardi Gras beads to the day job. They all think I’m weird anyway, so why not, right? This is as close as I’ll ever get to a “selfie.”
Now, please join me in welcoming my good friend and fellow author, Viola Carr, to Preternatura today. Viola is dropping by to celebrate the release of her latest book, The Diabolical Miss Hyde. The Diabolical Miss Hyde was published on February 10 by Harper Voyager and is the first book in Viola’s Electric Empire series.
Viola Carr was born in a strange and distant land, but wandered into darkest London one foggy October evening and never found her way out. She now devours countless history books and dictates fantastical novels by gaslight, accompanied by classical music and the snoring of her slumbering cat. You can learn more about Viola by visiting her website, on Facebook and by following her on Twitter.
ABOUT THE DIABOLICAL MISS HYDE: Magic, mystery, and romance mix in this edgy retelling of the classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-in which Dr. Eliza Jekyll is the daughter of the infamous Henry In an electric-powered Victorian London, Dr. Eliza Jekyll is a crime scene investigator, hunting killers with inventive new technological gadgets. Now, a new killer is splattering London with blood, drugging beautiful women and slicing off their limbs. Catching “the Chopper” could make Eliza’s career–or get her burned. Because Eliza has a dark secret. A seductive second self, set free by her father’s forbidden magical elixir: wild, impulsive Lizzie Hyde. When the Royal Society sends their enforcer, the mercurial Captain Lafayette, to prove she’s a sorceress, Eliza must resist the elixir with all her power. But as the Chopper case draws her into London’s luminous, magical underworld, Eliza will need all the help she can get. Even if it means getting close to Lafayette, who harbors an evil curse of his own. Even if it means risking everything and setting vengeful Lizzie free . . .
And now, let’s hear from Viola…
The authenticity (or not) of steampunk
By Viola Carr
You got it wrong.
The words every author of historical fiction – even steampunk quasi-historicals – dreads. It wasn’t really like that back then. She wouldn’t have dreamed of wearing X. People didn’t talk like Y. You got it wrong! *sneer, snark, deride, etc..*
Thing is, I’m a fantasy author first and foremost. Making things up is what I do. When I hear works that are clearly steampunk coming under attack from such nitpickers – especially the more recent kind of steampunk, which crosses genres with mystery or romance or what-have-you… (and there might lie the rub, folks. Romantic steampunk! Fantasy by women, for women! *sneer, snark, deride, etc.* But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post. Ahem. Back on topic…
When I hear steampunk under attack from such odd purists, I want to protest: ‘But this is a romp, not a thesis. It’s an improbable fantasia on quasi-Victorian values, with magic and action and lashings of romance. It’s meant to be fun. It isn’t supposed to be serious fantasy!’
And then I stop, and I slap myself upside the head.
Honestly. When did we all get so boring? When did fantasy lose its sense of wonder and imagination, and become about rules and definitions and my-side-your-side? And who says plot-driven fantasy can’t be ‘serious’?
Because ‘serious’ fantasy, of course, is supposed to equate to ‘real’ fantasy. As if fantasy isn’t valid art unless it’s got something deep and meaningful to say. The Only True Fantasy must be about ideas and issues, don’t you know, not just plot or character or fun stuff like airships and goggles!
Which is rubbish, and insidious rubbish at that.
Don’t get me wrong: I love epic fantasy. I adore grimdark. I could fangirl all day about The First Law and The Gunpowder Mage trilogies, and how awesome the grit and realism is in Song of Ice and Fire. I admire authors who write fantasy about feminism or alienation or equality. You can even catch me in the occasional gripe about window-dressing and cursory world-building in all genres of fantasy. An undiscerning reader I am not.
But I also adore a good romance. I’m unashamed that my historical fantasy is romantic, whimsical and sometimes improbable. I’ll argue all day that those elements don’t necessarily make a fantasy pointless or trite. It’s the author’s job to create a satisfying whole from whatever genre mash-up they’re attempting, and pasting on wallpaper that features cogs and airships in a story that isn’t about cogs and airships is not a failing of romantic steampunk in particular. It’s just lazy writing. World-building fitted after the fact makes a less compelling story than world-building that’s inextricable from the plot. In my opinion. YMMV. Some readers don’t care. Good luck to them.
But I maintain that’s a different basket of eels to historical ‘inaccuracy’, which in steampunk can and does serve the story. Steampunk is about anachronism. It asks “What if things weren’t the way they really were?” I’m not sure we as steampunk readers have much to complain about if everything isn’t strictly by the history books. And in romantic steampunk (which could just as easily have a capital R, as art for art’s sake, otherwise known as ‘fun’) we unapologetically spend additional page time developing the story’s emotional core.
Even in pure historical fiction, a little license can work wonders. Go watch Immortal Beloved and tell me you don’t have an emotional response to Beethoven’s imagined tragedies. Tell me you aren’t itching to personally chop off Thomas More’s head after reading Wolf Hall. ‘But it’s inaccurate!’ some people cry. ‘It’s revisionist! It’s pro-Reformation propaganda! Off with Hilary Mantel’s head!’
*head desk* People. Listen. Wolf Hall is historical fiction, for a modern audience, written in Cromwell’s point of view. Of course he rationalizes the dissolution of the monasteries and More’s execution. He’s the hero of his own story. That’s the whole point.
So if Dr. Eliza Jekyll, my heroine in The Diabolical Miss Hyde, says something that isn’t quite ‘authentic’, or wears garments that didn’t strictly exist? That would be because in her London, the sewers are full of fairy hybrids, alchemists sell their wares on street corners and someone went and invented the electric train forty years ahead of its time. Wouldn’t it be odder if she did speak and dress authentically?
The world of my Electric Empire series is shamelessly wacky, out-of-order and ass-about. Historical accuracy (whatever that means, in the context of an anachronistic genre) takes second place to voice, plot, picturesque settings, and characters I’d want to read about for fun.
Because romantic steampunk is ‘real fantasy’, dammit, and it’s still supposed to be fun. The way Deadwood and The Tudors are supposed to be fun, and gorgeous, and fabulous, and sexy, without too much worrying about whether the characters would really have talked like that or whether someone’s codpiece sports historically authentic dimensions. ‘The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely,’ wrote Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray, and added: ‘All art is quite useless.’ Amen, Oscar. Come over and watch Da Vinci’s Demons with me.
Honestly, nitpickers: we know. We did our research, believe it or not. If you want 100% historical accuracy, read a history book. Better still, read fifty history books – like most historical fantasy authors did, I can assure you, before they wrote a single word – and decide for yourself. Don’t read/watch one author’s vision, which they created for a modern audience’s entertainment, and sneer at them for ‘getting it wrong’.
Then again, go right ahead, if it makes you feel good. Who am I to stop you? But I’m sorry for you, because in my opinion, you’re missing out on some brilliant entertainment! For the rest of us: relax. It’s fantasy. Enjoy it.
Thanks, Viola. Congrats on the release of The Diabolical Miss Hyde, it’s near the top of my TBR pile right now.
I happen to know that some of the regular commenters here are fans of steampunk and I’ll be looking forward to reading their comments today. And, if you would like to be entered for your chance to win a copy of The Diabolical Miss Hyde, then you must leave a comment and perhaps good ol’ random.org will smile on you. Good luck!