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Queen Victoria's Book of Spells, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Queen Victoria's Book of Spells, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling [Mar. 20th, 2013|11:41 am]
Marissa Lingen
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Review copy provided by Tor. There is a subtitle, "An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy," which is usefully informative but makes for too long a title post for lj.

This is a very high-quality anthology. I often find myself skipping this and that in anthologies, paging forward to the next thing--it's one of the strengths of the form, that if you don't like one thing, there'll be another that's different. I didn't find that necessary with Queen Victoria's Book of Spells. But of course even in a good anthology there will be stories that stand out, and I am determined to make more of a point of calling out good short fiction specifically when I have the time/attention/energy, so! Here we are then.

Genevieve Valentine's "From the Catalogue of the Pavilion of the Uncanny and Marvellous, Scheduled for Premiere at the Great Exhibition (Before the Fire)" was one of the stories that really seemed to understand the mid-late-Victorian mindset regarding science and industry, and to understand it in an entertaining way that was simultaneously compassionate about how very creepy it could get for some of the objects of the Victorian pseudo-scientific obsession. I also find that some mosaic stories don't really add up to stories--they have beautifully done bits, but they don't quite fit together--whereas this one is an exemplar of the form.

Elizabeth Wein's "For the Briar Rose" reminded me of A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book, but it did what I secretly (okay, not-so-secretly) longed for The Children's Book to do on the speculative end. The Pre-Raphaelites are fascinating and their greater circle almost more so, and Wein does a lovely job with twining a story around them.

"The Vital Importance of the Superficial," by Ellen Kushner and Caroline Stevermer, is another exemplar of its form: this time a letter game story. And you can even see how the letter game would have grown--often the early letters are edited to reflect where the story eventually grew, but that wasn't necessary here, and so the letters can unfold naturally to the readers. The tone/voice is delightful, the worldbuilding choices amusing. Very very fond.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: dichroic
2013-03-20 05:07 pm (UTC)
Oh, good, I'm glad you reviewed this. I'm trying to spend less on books (and everything else) these days, but I was tempted by this one, so it's good to have confirmation of its quality.
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[User Picture]From: blue_hat_guru
2013-03-21 05:21 am (UTC)
Oh, interesting.

Though now I'm pondering the epistemological requirements inherent in "understand the mid-late-Victorian mindset regarding science and industry."
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