Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells

Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Book CoverThis anthology is collected by the same editors and many of the same authors as Teeth, which I read and reviewed previously. It is described on the cover as “an anthology of gaslamp fantasy,” and having the setting be the common factor instead of the characters allowed for a greater range in the stories, which I appreciated.

The Victorian Era, too, is an excellent setting to pick, since so much was going on! There was the very first world’s fair, an explosion of technology, science, and manufacturing, and a return to romance in the arts. It was an era of lots of contradictions, as well: most well-known for extreme wealth, it also had predominant extreme poverty; the British Empire was both strongly xenophobic and driven to colonize; and Queen Victoria herself was both a pretty and lively young girl, and a solemn and joyless widow.

Though, once again, I checked out the book for the short story by Genevieve Valentine, I was pleased that the anthology also included Elizabeth Wein and Caroline Stevermer. My favorite stories ended up being “The Governess” by Elizabeth Bear, in which a governess takes a position in a very troubled household, and “Phosphorus” by Veronica Schanoes, about the strike of the women who worked in the match factories. Don’t those two alone reveal the wide scope of the book?

Can I also describe how ridiculous I can be? I had always had a vague feeling that I didn’t care for Elizabeth Bear, because I believed that she had written Clan of the Cave Bear (because “Bear”) and/or Women Who Run with Wolves, or some amalgamum of both books that only exists in my head. In addition to the fact that Elizabeth Bear did not write either of those books, I have not actually read either of those books, or any books that Elizabeth Bear has actually written. No reality will keep me from my pointless prejudices!

— Anna

Willful Impropriety

Edited by Ekaterina Sedia

Book Cover: Willful ImproprietyIn spite of considering myself an avid reader, I don’t actually buy books very often. I have a history of moving every 4-5 years, and after a couple of times moving countless heavy boxes of books, a large personal library just seems cumbersome. However, when I saw a copy of Willful Impropriety in the store, I bought it without a second thought. Young adult fiction, with some Fantasy elements, set in the Victorian Era? Yes, please!

Plus, I had originally heard of the book on the blog of one of the contributing authors, Genevieve Valentine, of whom I’m a big fan. (Also, she tends to contribute stories to more esoteric collections that are not picked up by my library.) Valentine is a bit of a conundrum for me, though. I love both her blog and her fictional writing, but they are shockingly different. Her blog is very funny with acute analysis of current popular culture, while her fiction has a lyrical and melancholy tone, and her story in this collection is no exception.

I was also pleasantly surprised that another of the authors, Caroline Stevermer, was the co-author, along with Partricia C. Wrede, of Sorcery & Cecilia, which I’ve already raved about here. Her story was probably my favorite of this collection, and has inspired me to track down some more of her books Another author, M. K. Hobson, whose story felt a bit like a P.G. Wodehouse story but with magic, also wrote The Native Star, which Kinsey recommended to me a while ago, and while is definitely going on my to-read list.

The introduction to the book describes that young adult literature set in the Victorian Age seemed like a complimentary match, since YA Lit is often about rebelling against the status quo to establish an individual identity, and the Victorian Age sure had a lot of status quo to rebel against. But after more than a dozen stories, I was a little saddened by how many of them ended with the heroine finding a solution in a relationship with a man.

Which, of course, is one of the few historically accurate ‘happy endings’ for women, but the stories didn’t stay so rigidly accurate in other features, so having them return to that trope was a bit of a bummer. The stories that did not include such a pat ending stood out all the more, though.

— Anna