Tag Archives: Queen Victoria's Book of Spells

Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling

Overview
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Title: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells
Author: Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling, Delia Sherman, Jeffrey Ford, Genevieve Valentine, Maureen McHugh, Kathe Koja, Elizabeth Wein, Elizabeth Bear, James P. Blaylock, Kaaron Warren, Leanna Renee Hieber, Dale Bailey, Veronica Schanoes, Catherynne M. Valente, Ellen Kushner, Caroline Stevermer, Jane Yolen, Gregory Maguire, Tanith Lee & Theodora Goss
In: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells (Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling)
Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again)
My Bookshelves: Fantasy, GaslampShort story collections
Dates read: 8th June – 6th November 2019
Pace: Slow
Format: Anthology
Publisher: Tor
Year: 2013
5th sentence, 74th page: The sisters and I said nothing to one another, as I speak no German and they no English, but we watched the flames together until they seemed satisfied and departed, I know not where.

Synopsis

Gaslamp fantasy, or historical fantasy set in a magical version of the nineteenth century, has long been popular with readers and writers alike. Many wonderful novels, such as Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and The Prestige by Christopher Priest, ower their inspiration to works by nineteenth-century writers, including Jane Austen, the Brontes, Charles Dickens, and Anthony Trollope. And, of course, the entire steampunk genre and subculture owes more than a little to literature from and inspired by this period.

Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells is an anthology for everyone who loves neo-Victorian fiction and modern fantasists using vintage settings, characters, and themes. Their approaches stretch from steampunk fiction to the Austen- and Trollope- inspired works known as fantasy of manners. The result is eighteen stories by experts from the fantasy, horror, main-stream, and young-adult fields, including both bestselling writers and exciting new talents, who present a bewitching vision of a nineteenth century enhance (or cursed!) with magic.

Thoughts

This is an absolutely brilliant collection. One that I didn’t want to put down and introduced me to a whole new genre. It’s my first ever Gaslamp collection, and although I found some of the stories throughout a little weird and intense… I also loved the vast majority of them. Enough so that I plan to read this again and again in the future.

I was expecting a pretty simple and balanced collection. I really wasn’t expecting such a convoluted and twisted set of stories. But, as I’ve often found in life, it’s those unexpected surprises are the best and most exciting aspects of life. They’re the moments that you don’t want to forget because they were unplanned. And this anthology kind of felt like that.

I tend to read a lot of short stories late at night. Or when I’m just needing a quick little break from the many complexities of my PhD. This is not the collection that does that for me. It’s seriously intense, completely unexpected and very full on. The kind of short stories that you want to read when you have your concentrating brain working… not when it’s late at night and you just want some easy entertainment…

<- PoeQueen Victoria’s Book of Spells ->

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Estella Saves the Village by Theodora Goss

Overview
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Title: Estella Saves the Village
Author: Theodora Goss
In: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells (Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling)
Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again)
My Bookshelves: Fantasy, GaslampRetellings
Dates read: 6th November 2019
Pace: Medium
Format: Short story
Publisher: Tor
Year: 2013
5th sentence, 74th page: Pip was leaning on his elbow, looking down at me.

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Synopsis

Estella has noticed dark patches appearing on all of the people in her quaint, Victorian village. When she discovers the cause, she realises that she may be the only one who is able to save the people she loves.

Thoughts

Victorian literature is filled with some seriously unhappy endings. So it was really nice to read a short story that gives many of these not-so-happily-ever-afters a much better ending. One that was a quaint village, a nice living and no drama, murder or mayhem. I think that it’s something we’ve all wanted to do when we’re reading one of those not so happy classics…

The power of words is intense, unforgettable and something that I (very obviously) am obsessed with. It turns out that Theodora Goss feels the same… this is all about how the power of words and the imagination can create a whole new reality. And how a loss of memory can start to destroy such perfect worlds. Ones that are full of happiness, hope and happily ever afters.

The saviour of the village isn’t the creator – and I liked this message that anyone can save their village if they just put their minds to it. That we can create our own happily ever afters with the power of positive thinking.

 <- Their Monstrous Minds ReviewRuby Slippers, Golden Tears Review ->
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Their Monstrous Minds by Tanith Lee

Overview
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Title: Their Monstrous Minds
Author: Tanith Lee
In: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells (Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling)
Rating Out of 5: 3 (On the fence about this one)
My Bookshelves: Dark fantasy, Gaslamp
Dates read: 2nd November 2019
Pace: Slow
Format: Short story
Publisher: Tor
Year: 2013
5th sentence, 74th page: The use of the island, too, had demanded the sort of money only a traitor could earn.

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Synopsis

The trippy and convoluted adventure down into the monstrous minds of some beings. Dark, twisted and filled with death.

Thoughts

This story is incredibly twisted and confusing. I’m still not entirely sure what went on, and didn’t overly enjoy it. However, I did love the darkness that seeped through the pages. There was a lot of death, darkness and twisted, monstrous minds throughout this story. And for that alone I would probably reread this multiple times. I like my stories dark and twisted.

I think that the reason I didn’t quite get into this was that it was incredibly jumpy and convoluted. Plus, I was reading it late at night after a day of fieldwork… it doesn’t make a great combination for the concentrating on difficult stories… but I might try it again in the future, the second time is often a charm.

 <- A Few Twigs He Left Behind ReviewEstella Saves the Village Review ->
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A Few Twigs He Left Behind by Gregory Maguire

Overview
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Title: A Few Twigs He Left Behind
Author: Gregory Maguire
In: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells (Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling)
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: ChristmasGaslamp
Dates read: 31st October 2019
Pace: Medium
Format: Short story
Publisher: Tor
Year: 2013
5th sentence, 74th page: “My Caroline will feed them up a good meal as befits the day, happy as it is while being now tainted with sadness, and in all its anniversaries to come, forever more.”

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Synopsis

Have you ever wondered what happened after Scrooge saw the light? What his life was like after the events of Christmas Carol? Well, wonder no more!

Thoughts

A Christmas Carol is one of my favourite Christmas tales. Like many others the world round… and for good reason. So it was kind of fun to read a short story which takes place ten years after the events that took hold of Scrooge one fateful Christmas. Not only does he have a great new purpose in life, but he has children and a great, giving spirit.

I do love stories which feature a happily-ever-after. Life doesn’t often deliver that, so it’s nice to read about it. The non-messy, everything tied up neatly endings to a tale. But, sometimes it’s also nice to have a tale that takes place after the happily-ever-after. A story that tells you that all the good that was imbued into Scrooge actually lasted until his death and continued to flow through his life and family.

The main question that this story asks is – can ten years of good living lead to atonement? After a life of misery, can we truly remove the chains because of a late in life change of heart? It’s a question that’s going to keep lingering with me long after I’ve turned the final page on the Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells collection.

 <- The Jewel in the Toad Queen’s Crown ReviewTheir Monstrous Minds Review ->
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The Jewel in the Toad Queen’s Crown by Jane Yolen

Overview
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Title: The Jewel in the Toad Queen’s Crown
Author: Jane Yolen
In: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells (Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling)
Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again)
My Bookshelves: GaslampHistorical fiction
Dates read: 29th October 2019
Pace: Medium
Format: Short story
Publisher: Tor
Year: 2013
5th sentence, 74th page: He realized then how foolish he had been, playing about with kabalistic magic.

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Synopsis

A great historical rendition of Queen Victoria’s unique friendship with her Prime Minister and the journey they took to reach an understanding.

Thoughts

This story didn’t end at all as I expected. But it did make me realise that it is probably based on a true story. Which just makes it all the more fun – after all, who doesn’t like a cute little reimagining of a true, historical friendship?

I was expecting a truly dark story at the beginning. One in which the Queen is somehow overtaken and turned in a way that would be detrimental to her kingdom. (Don’t look at me like that, it does happen). Yet, it was kind of sweet, cute, and funny in the end. Alright, there were moments of darkness and slight insanity… but it was mostly enjoyable.

Sometimes it’s nice to read a story that features a male and female and just ends in friendship. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance, but that isn’t the only way that people of opposite sexes can interact. The fact that this friendship came from a kind of magical place, and an understanding of each others’ loss was thoroughly enjoyable. And not the kind of short story that I’m going to forget any time soon.

 <- The Vital Importance of the Superficial ReviewA Few Twigs He Left Behind Review ->
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The Vital Importance of the Superficial by Ellen Kushner & Caroline Stevermer

Overview
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Title: The Vital Importance of the Superficial
Author: Ellen Kushner & Caroline Stevermer
In: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells (Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling)
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: GaslampScience fiction
Dates read: 24th October 2019
Pace: Slow
Format: Short story
Publisher: Tor
Year: 2013
5th sentence, 74th page: I play the pianoforte, but only very indifferently.

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Synopsis

A series of letters tell the story of an experiment gone awry, and the power of magic that ties everyone together. Will there be a happy ending to the letters that they share with one another?

Thoughts

This was such an interesting way to write a story – it was all written in letters between the characters. Rather than a proper prose, each moment of the future, past and present was outlined in people’s words and communications to one another. It made a completely unique and enjoyable experience. One that I really wasn’t expecting. And definitely a newer format to me… it’s always fun to find a unique way in which a story is told!

The Vital Importance of the Superficial is kind of nuts, but it was still a great tale. One that I look forward to reading again in the future. Every letter, every moment reveals more about the characters and the past. More about the story that is unfolding in a way that I was quite enthralled to experience. After all, it was a very different way to tell a story that was unique and not quite what was to be expected. All based in a great Victorian era.

The writing and style of this story was very reminiscent of Jane Austen and other similar writers. Not just in the way it was written, but the proper language shared between the characters. That, and the fact that everyone seemed to find love and completion in the end. A partner that was in front of their eyes the whole time…

 <- We Without Us Were Shadows ReviewThe Jewel in the Toad Queen’s Crown Review ->
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We Without Us Were Shadows by Catherynne M. Valente

Overview
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Title: We Without Us Were Shadows
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
In: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells (Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling)
Rating Out of 5: 3.5 (Liked this)
My Bookshelves: Easy reading, Fantasy, Gaslamp
Dates read: 17th October 2019
Pace: Slow
Format: Short story
Publisher: Tor
Year: 2013
5th sentence, 74th page: What would happen?

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Synopsis

Childhood and imagination is a wonderful thing. But what happens when the things that you imagine become real?

Thoughts

This story has a completely surreal quality to it. Which can be said for a lot of the Gaslamp stories I’ve read… but this one just takes on a whole new level. I think it’s the combination of different worlds and the childlike dream state that is perpetuated throughout. It just makes this feel incredibly dreamlike – and makes it a little hard to follow through.

One of the most childlike moments of this story is the constant return of the soldiers. I did get lost with the names of the different characters, but there were constantly mentions of toy soldiers who became real men in the different worlds that the children visited. It kept making me think of fairy tales and legends that I’ve read as a child.

I didn’t read We Without Us Were Shadows at a great time. It was late at night and I was exhausted after a day of fieldwork. But it’s certainly a tale that I think I would like to reread. Maybe when I’m capable of paying a little more attention to the words on the page… instead of almost falling asleep halfway through.

 <- Phosphorus ReviewThe Vital Importance of the Superficial Review ->
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Phosphorus by Veronica Schanoes

Overview
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Title: Phosphorus
Author: Veronica Schanoes
In: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells (Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling)
Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect)
My Bookshelves: Gaslamp, Historical fiction
Dates read: 11th October 2019
Pace: Medium
Format: Short story
Publisher: Tor
Year: 2013
5th sentence, 74th page: You’d like to know that Annie won’t starve, at least.

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Synopsis

Annie has always been told by her gifted grandmother that she has a bright future ahead of her. What she doesn’t know is that the brightness comes from phosphorus and will lead to a dark end…

Thoughts

I’ve recently read The Radium Girls, which gave me a whole new appreciation for what some women went through in the work force in the twenties. And, this story is about phosphorus, not radium. It takes place a long, long time before the occurrences in Radium Girls, but much of the storyline and themes echo. Which is probably why I loved it so much from the very beginning.

This is a very bittersweet and tragic tale. Annie seems to have so much promise and a beautiful life before her. Yet, it is cut short by the greed of others. Although she tries to stay around to watch their comeuppance, but she still meets a kind of horrible end. One that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

Historical fictions and tales which are based on the truths of history have seriously begun to become a bit of an obsession with me. Particularly ones which are based on the battles of women and the working class. This short story perfectly fits that niche and makes me wonder what else Schanoes has written that I can get my hands on…

 <- Mr. Splitfoot ReviewWe Without Us Were Shadows Review ->
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Mr. Splitfoot by Dale Bailey

Overview
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Title: Mr. Splitfoot
Author: Dale Bailey
In: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells (Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling)
Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect)
My Bookshelves: GaslampGhosts, Historical fiction
Dates read: 30th September 2019
Pace: Medium
Format: Short story
Publisher: Tor
Year: 2013
5th sentence, 74th page: The spirit hands and the voices and the Summerland itself.

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Synopsis

Maggie and Kate Fox have a long history of delving into the spiritual world. But as Maggie faces her final days, she reminsces on their lies and the horrors of Mr. Splitfoot.

Thoughts

I don’t really know anything about the Fox sisters. But this short story really made me want to find out more about them. It would be an amazing story and fascinating tale. Actually, I think that I’ll put their biography on my wishlist…

Bailey manages to write a fascinating historical fiction. Taking Maggie’s last days and building a rich tapestry, he constructs a world that I didn’t quite want to leave. Maggie’s confusion, reminiscing and regret all built a surreal story. One that had a waxing and waning quality… built around an old woman with many regrets and a horrifying spectre lingering over her final moments.

One of the aspects I really enjoyed about this story (other than the actual story), was Bailey’s explanation at the close. He highlights which parts of this tale were real and which ones completely figments of his own imagination. It made everything far more real and intense. Bought it to life in a way I really wasn’t expecting. And had no idea I craved so badly.

 <- Charged ReviewPhosphorus Review ->
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Charged by Leanna Renee Hieber

Overview
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Title: Charged
Author: Leanna Renee Hieber
In: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells (Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling)
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Fantasy, GaslampHistorical fiction
Dates read: 25th September 2019
Pace: Slow
Format: Short story
Publisher: Tor
Year: 2013
5th sentence, 74th page: While today’s fair was no joy, tonight proved a further trial – the first of what I assume will be many stumbling blocks along my pilgrim’s progress.

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Synopsis

Mosley was struck by lightning as a child, but he didn’t truly realise that that’s what it meant until his younger brother is murdered. Then, on his quest to meet Edison, he begins to understand the true meaning behind light, electricity and power at the turn of the century.

Thoughts

Tesla and Edison and their competition has always vaguely fascinated me. After all, they’re work is what we use in our everyday lives and it’s not something that I could imagine being without. And, apparently Hieber felt the same… since this pivotal moment in time is what is featured in this tale. It completely drew me in. To the point, that after reading this story, I bought a collection of works that feature Tesla’s experiments and life… you have to start somewhere, and I’m still not entirely sure who’s side I’m on in that race…

I really enjoyed Hieber’s wordplay on light and power. Both are intricately intertwined with electricity and they have some incredibly similar meanings, yet we use them so separately in our everyday lives. I don’t think I’ll be doing that so much now. From henceforth it seems more likely and useful to see them as their intertwined selves. And understand them in conjunction with each other.

Recently, I’ve been watching a lot of Smallville, and in one of the early episodes there is a young man who goes insane and has a lot of power (literally) running through his veins. Mosley made me think of this a lot. He is young, from a very bad family situation and just wants to find a way to make the world (mostly his world) better. Yet, the way he goes about it has a slightly sinister feeling to it. One that left me with goosebumps sliding up my arms long after I turned the last page.

 <- The Unwanted Women of Surrey ReviewMr. Splitfoot Review ->
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