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Queen Victoria s Book of Spells
An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy
edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Tor, $25.99, 350pp
Release Date: March 19, 2013
18 stories here, by some of the best writers (and the premier editors) of fantasy.

Delia Sherman’s titular story starts things off with a graduate student who is good at finding things. It’s a genetic talent: “Mom finds tumors in cancer patients. Dad finds oil deposits. I find encoded texts.” Magically obscured texts, that is. That’s the gaslamp version of hacking. Her assignment: find the hidden, secret entries embedded in Princess Victoria’s diary.

“The Fairy Enterprise”, by Jeffrey Ford, describes the effect industrialization had on the fairy folk, and how one man seeks to exploit a market of scarcity by finding a way to mass market fairies. He succeeds, too…sort of.

“From the Catalogue of the Uncanny and the Marvellous” is Genevieve Valentine’s artful description of a might-have-been feature of London ’s Great Exhibition.

A number of the stories reveal the dark sides of the Victorian era, and of human nature. “The Memory Book”, by Maureen McHugh, is a genteel horror story. “The Governess”, by Elizabeth Bear, is a bleak look at the violence under the veneer. “The Unwanted Women of Surrey” and “Phosphorus”, by Kaaron Warren and Veronica Schanoes respectively, describe some of the grimmest realities women endured, whether as castoffs of society or as workers in the deadly factories that made phosphorus-tipped matches.

On the lighter side, Ellen Kushner and Caroline Stevermer offer up “The Vital Importance of the Superficial”, and

Charles Dickens was one of the most famous writers of the time, so Theodara Glass revisits Great Expectations – from Estella’s perspective; and Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked, has written “A Few Twigs He Left Behind”, a sequel to A Christmas Carol which starts off: “Scrooge was dead; no doubt about that.”

What about the era’s other most famous authors? Conan Doyle gets his turn in the atmospheric “ Smithfield ”, by James Blaylock; and the Bronte siblings have an extraordinary adventure in “We Without Us Were Shadows.” (I am guessing that Catherynne Valente grew up reading E. Nesbit’s books as well as Wuthering Heights .) As for the political side, Jane Yolen has imagined a disgruntled Disraeli, who, when he isn’t juggling the affairs of the Empire or managing his network of spies, consoles himself by transforming his Queen into a toad.

Charged” by Leanna Renee Hieber is one of this collection’s masterpieces. A boy who survives being struck by a lightning bolt becomes fascinated with electricity’s potential, and addicted to it as well.

And then there is “For the Briar Rose” by Elizabeth Wein, about William Morris and the Burne-Jones family. You may not recognize the names, for William Morris’ novels and patterns are both out of fashion, but Morris and Burne-Jones were Pre-Raphaelite artists and great friends. William’s wife Jane was the great beauty with the masses of dark hair, she who became the model and mistress of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. But the main character of the story is young Margaret, Burne-Jones’s daughter, who served as the model for his Briar Rose sequence of paintings, as she comes to terms with the costs and the glories of artistic endeavor.

A book of many moods and voices, surely this is one of, if not the best anthology of 2013. – Chris R. Paige

For more collections edited by Ellen Datlow click here

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