Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fiction

Neo-Victorian Anthology Filled with Delights and Wonders

Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Review by Malcolm R. Campbell

Readers who aren’t familiar with the term “gaslamp” learn in the editors’ preface that the term applies to “stories set in a magical version of the nineteenth-century” in parts of the world where “British culture has been, or remains, a dominant force.”

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling have brought lovers of fantasy so many anthologies over the years that the announcement of a new release sends long-time readers to book stores at top speed. When they read the eighteen new stories in Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, they won’t be disappointed.

The collection draws its title from the lead short story by Delia Sherman in which we learn that Queen Victoria was–at least in this version of the world–well schooled in magic and that she kept a record of her spells in obscure codes hidden away in her diaries. Her first lesson in magic occurred June 7, 1833. She expected the exercises to strengthen her self-discipline.

The opening on Jeffrey Ford’s “The Fairy Enterprise” serves as a wonderful example of the overall tone of the anthology: “Once upon a time, prior to the mastication of mill gears, the clang and hellfire of factories, before smog and black snow, fairies grew up naturally out of the earth, out of the bodies of the dead, and found new like again in one of the four elements. They gambolled invisibly but oft enough appeared as lovely women or tiny men or a demon come to lead you astray.”

While most people will retain their power to put the book down when they’re done reading, the stories in this book do cast a spell, one that snags imaginations and wishful thinking and pulls readers astray. Some of the stories are funny; others are tragic. Each story concludes with an “About” section in which the author talks about the inspiration behind the work.

In addition to the title story, standout contributions include Elizabeth Wein’s “For the Briar Rose,” Kaaron Warren’s “The Unwanted Women of Surrey,” Dale Bailey’s “Mr. Splitfood,” Jane Yolen’s “The Jewel in the Toad Queen’s Crown,” and Theodora Goss’ “Estelle Saves the Village.” Terri Windling’s introduction, while not original to the book, provides an entertaining overview of the role of fantasy during the Victorian era.

This book is a treasure house of delights and wonders.

TITLE: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fiction
EDITORS: Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
PUBLISHER: Tor Books
ISBN: 9780765332264

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