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REVIEW: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

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Title: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells

Author: Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Publisher/Publication Date: Tor Books, Pub. date Mar. 19, 2013

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling have once again put together an amazing anthology with stories from a fabulous group of talented authors. The fairy tale re-telling anthologies by them have always been some of my favorite. Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells focuses on Gaslamp fantasy (a personal favorite of mine) and includes tales from some of my favorite authors, including Jane Yolen and Tanith Lee. The entire collection reminds me a lot of Susanna Clarke’s Ladies of Grace Adieu and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell so if you enjoyed either of those this collection should be right up your alley.

My favorite thing about short story anthologies is how easy it is for me to devour an entire story at a time but still always have something to look forward to on my next reading. They are the ideal book for busy people. The other wonderful thing about anthologies is the chance to discover new authors, such as Theodora Goss and Elizabeth Bear. With anthologies there are always some stories that you like more than others and, sometimes, stories that you just really aren’t fond of. Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells was the first anthology in a long time where, while I did have my favorites, I enjoyed every single story included. I’m going to touch on just a few of my favorites.

“The Memory Book” by Maureen McHugh is the story of Laura Anne, a governess for the Finches. Laura Anne does well with the children but these is something just a little off about her and the Memory Book that she creates and cherishes may be much more than it seems.

“For the Briar Rose” by Elizabeth Wein is a tale that beautifully mixes art and literature. The story focuses on Margaret Burne-Jones, the daughter of Edward Burne-Jones who painted the Briar Rose series. Wein cleverly blurs the lines between reality and magic that is so often seen around beautiful works of art and how that creation can tie into motherhood. 

“The Governess” by Elizabeth Bear examines the darker side of that career when one is part of a household in which the master believes himself entitled to the staff. Bear looks at what happens when a mother becomes desperate for the safety of her children and the choices that cross a moral or ethical line but must still be made. 

“The Vital Importance of the Superficial” by Ellen Kushner and Caroline Stevermer is a delightful and adorable epistoloary between Ms. Charlotte Fleming, the daughter of a master of the Experimental Arts, and Lord Ravenal, a talented inventor of a magic sort. They correspond quite humorously as Lord Ravenal attempts to thwart the evil plans of his arch-nemsis, Wulfstan, and rescue his sister, Priscilla. Charlotte’s quick-witted nature comes through clearly in her letters and she proves that she is more than a match for the many intelligent men populating her world.

So, as I mentioned, a really wonderful little collection of stories that I’m sure I’ll revisit time and time again. Well worth picking up for your own collection. 

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