May 9

Steampunk And Sorcery: The Best In Gaslamp Fantasy Literature


Step into the fog-drenched streets of gaslamp fantasy, where the glow of gaslight meets the enchantment of the arcane. In the shadowy corners of a world much like our own Victorian era, but imbued with magic, intrigue, and adventure, gaslamp fantasy novels offer a uniquely atmospheric escape. This genre cleverly fuses historical elements with fantastical ones, crafting narratives rich in period detail and supernatural wonder.

Imagine a world where airships dot the skyline and sorcerers in top hats wield spells beside revolvers. It's here, in these gaslit pages, that magic isn't just a possibility—it's a given. This blend of the familiar and the fantastical appeals not just to our sense of wonder but to our desire for a past that never quite was. As one critic puts it, "Gaslamp fantasy reminds us that the past is a place where magic might have happened, if we'd just looked hard enough."

From Gail Carriger's parasol-wielding heroines to the sinister machinations of P. Djèlí Clark's haunted streets, gaslamp fantasy offers a portal to a past that intertwines closely with myth and magic. It caters to those of us who love our history served with a side of the supernatural, suggesting, perhaps, that every puff of steam and creak of corset is a story waiting to unfold. So, pull on your gloves and adjust your goggles—it's time to explore the alluring gloom and glitter of the best gaslamp fantasy novels. Where history meets magic, expect nothing less than the extraordinary.

Gaslamp Fantasy Is For You If...

  • You love a historical twist with your magic: If the idea of wandering through Dickensian streets sprinkled with a dash of magic captures your imagination, gaslamp fantasy is your go-to genre. It combines the grimy details of the 19th century with elements of the fantastical, offering stories that are both richly atmospheric and enchantingly magical.
  • You enjoy historical settings with a whimsical twist: If you delight in the social manners of Jane Austen's era but crave a backdrop where enchantments and sorcery play a role in high society, gaslamp fantasy will transport you to grand balls and shadowy deals, all under the glow of gaslight.
  • You appreciate a mix of meticulous detail and imaginative leaps: Celebrated for blending accurate historical details about gowns and gadgets with the outright fantastical, gaslamp fantasy is perfect for those who love their history served with a side of the impossible.
  • You're drawn to narratives that reimagine the past: This genre is ideal for readers who like to think about how witches, warlocks, and other magical beings might have influenced historical events, offering a past that is both familiar and thrillingly different.
  • You're fascinated by a world where historical and fantastical elements coalesce: In gaslamp fantasy, the past isn't just recreated—it's reimagined. Here, historical authenticity meets magical invention, creating a playground for the imagination where every historical detail might hide a magical secret.

Gaslamp fantasy invites you to step into a version of the past illuminated not just by gaslight but by the glow of magic. It’s a realm where every puff of steam and creak of a corset has the potential to tell a story of wonder.

Top 8 Best Gaslamp Fantasy Novels

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

"The Paper Magician" by Charlie N. Holmberg introduces readers to Ceony Twill, a young woman who graduates from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined with dreams of working with metal, only to be assigned to paper magic under the tutelage of the eccentric Magician Emery Thane. Initially disappointed, Ceony quickly discovers the wonders and possibilities that paper magic holds.

Set in an early 20th-century England filled with magical innovations, the story unfolds in Emery's quirky home, where paper comes alive under skilled hands, crafting everything from animated paper dogs to intricate, lifelike environments. As Ceony learns the folds of her craft, she develops a deep respect and affection for her mentor.

The plot thickens when an Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—breaks into their home and rips Thane's heart out, leaving a paper heart in its place to keep him alive. Ceony embarks on a daring adventure to save her teacher's life, delving into the chambers of Thane's still-beating paper heart, where she experiences the joys and sorrows that have shaped him.

"Your future is not in the hands of your materials, Miss Twill. It is in yours," Emery tells Ceony, emphasizing the theme of shaping one's path. "The Paper Magician" weaves a tale of adventure, romance, and the transformative power of belief and craftsmanship, captivating readers with its unique magic and heartfelt relationships.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

"The Watchmaker of Filigree Street" by Natasha Pulley is a mesmerizing blend of historical events and magical realism, set in Victorian London. The story centers on Thaniel Steepleton, a telegraph operator at the Home Office, who returns home one day to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the watch saves him from a fatal bomb explosion at Scotland Yard, leading him to seek out its maker, the enigmatic Japanese watchmaker Keita Mori.

Mori is a gentle but mysterious figure with the ability to remember both the future and the past. He lives in a world of clockwork and music, crafting intricate mechanical devices in his Filigree Street shop, accompanied by his mechanical octopus, Katsu. As Thaniel grows closer to Mori, he becomes entangled in a web of danger, espionage, and political intrigue surrounding the watchmaker's connections and his foresight.

The novel also follows Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist struggling against societal expectations to prove her theories about ether, who becomes crucial to understanding the deeper mysteries surrounding Mori and Thaniel.

"If you’re quiet, you’re not living. You’ve got to be noisy and colorful and lively," reflects a character, capturing the vibrant essence of the story. "The Watchmaker of Filigree Street" explores themes of time, memory, and the unseen forces that shape our lives, weaving a rich tapestry that captivates and enchants with its lyrical prose and complex characters.

Soulless by Gail Carriger

"Soulless" by Gail Carriger is a delightful romp through a Victorian London peopled with vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural beings, all brought to life with a witty and whimsical twist. The story introduces us to Alexia Tarabotti, a spirited and sharp-witted spinster with no soul, a condition that nullifies supernatural powers. This makes her a rare kind of being in a society teeming with mystic entities.

The plot kicks off when Alexia accidentally kills a vampire who attacks her at a ball— a vampire who strangely lacks proper introduction to, or knowledge about, Alexia, despite her notorious reputation among the supernatural community. This incident draws the attention of Lord Conall Maccon, a werewolf Alpha and the gruff yet dashing Bureau of Unnatural Registry's leader, who is investigating a string of mysterious disappearances in the supernatural world.

Set against the backdrop of steampunk-infused London, the novel combines elements of mystery, romance, and comedy. Characters like the flamboyant vampire Lord Akeldama and Alexia's best friend, the ever-flustered Miss Ivy Hisselpenny, add vibrant color and humor to the narrative.

"If one must flirt...flirt with danger," muses Alexia, encapsulating her daring approach to life and undead. "Soulless" spins a tale of intrigue and romance, inviting readers into a brilliantly imagined world where etiquette and espionage go hand in hand. It’s a perfect blend of paranormal adventure and Victorian propriety, making it a compelling read for fans of fantasy and historical fiction alike.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

"Boneshaker" by Cherie Priest is a thrilling steampunk adventure set in an alternate 1880s Seattle, which has been devastated by a powerful drilling machine, the Boneshaker, designed to extract gold from the frozen Klondike. The machine, invented by the brilliant but misguided Dr. Leviticus Blue, malfunctions catastrophically, releasing a toxic gas known as the Blight and causing the undead, or "rotters," to roam the city.

The story centers around Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes, and their teenage son, Zeke. Determined to clear his father’s tarnished name, Zeke ventures into the walled-off city filled with the gas and the undead. When Briar realizes Zeke is missing, she bravely follows him into the dangerous, Blight-infected city.

Set against the backdrop of this grim and gas-laden Seattle, Briar and Zeke navigate through the quarantined city, encountering a cast of survivors and rogues who carve out a life amidst the chaos. They battle air pirates, evade the rotters, and uncover dark secrets that might explain the true cause of the disaster.

“Sometimes the biggest disasters aren’t noticed at all—no one’s around to write horror stories,” reflects a character, capturing the eerie desolation. "Boneshaker" combines action-packed scenes with rich world-building, making it a fascinating tale of survival, family secrets, and resilience against a backdrop of steampunk innovation and zombie apocalypse. This novel is a must-read for those who enjoy a blend of horror, alternate history, and adventure.

The Infernal Devices: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

"The Infernal Devices: Clockwork Angel" by Cassandra Clare is the first novel in a captivating trilogy set in Victorian London, blending elements of the paranormal with the historical. The story follows Tessa Gray, a young American woman who travels to London in search of her missing brother, only to be drawn into a shadowy world of supernatural affairs.

Upon her arrival, Tessa is kidnapped by the sinister Dark Sisters, members of a group called the Pandemonium Club. Here, she discovers her own ability to transform into another person at will—a rare and valuable power. Rescued by the dashing and mysterious Shadowhunter, Will Herondale, Tessa finds refuge at the London Institute, where Shadowhunters wage a secret battle against demons and other supernatural threats.

As Tessa learns to control her powers, she becomes entangled in a dangerous plot involving mechanical creatures that are wreaking havoc across the city. Alongside Will and his best friend, Jem Carstairs, a gentle soul with a fierce fighting spirit, Tessa faces a formidable antagonist determined to rule the underworld.

"Whatever you are physically," a character advises Tessa, "male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy—all those things matter less than what your heart contains." "Clockwork Angel" is a tale of courage, forbidden romance, and identity, set against a rich tapestry of steampunk innovation and Gothic mystery. This novel is perfect for readers who enjoy thrilling adventures with a touch of historical romance.

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

"The Curse of Chalion" by Lois McMaster Bujold is a riveting fantasy novel set in a world reminiscent of medieval Spain, known as the kingdom of Chalion. The story centers on Cazaril, a war-scarred, former soldier who returns home, seeking peace and a quiet life as a castle warder. However, fate has a different plan, thrusting him back into the dangerous intrigues of court politics.

Cazaril’s new role as the secretary-tutor to the beautiful, spirited Royesse Iselle, the sister of the ruling Roya, pulls him into a complex web of political and divine machinations. As he navigates the perilous waters of the royal court, Cazaril discovers that the royal family of Chalion is under a dark curse, and he finds himself driven to break it.

With his deep knowledge of both the divine and the worldly, Cazaril emerges as an unlikely hero facing immense challenges. The gods themselves seem to have a role for him to play, transforming his journey into one of redemption and spiritual awakening.

"Sometimes the gods attract you with what you want most," reflects Cazaril, encapsulating his unexpected path to self-discovery and heroism. "The Curse of Chalion" is a tale of magic, intrigue, and human resilience, offering a profound exploration of fate and divine intervention. It's a must-read for those who enjoy stories of personal triumph and complex, realistic characters set against a richly imagined fantastical backdrop.

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist

"The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters" by Gordon Dahlquist is an exhilarating adventure that plunges readers into a vividly detailed world of intrigue, danger, and seduction. Set in a fantastical version of Victorian-era Europe, the novel follows three unlikely allies brought together by their mutual desire for revenge and their need to thwart a sinister conspiracy.

The story begins with Miss Celestial Temple, a determined young woman from a remote tropical island, who embarks on a journey to uncover the truth behind her fiancé’s mysterious break-up letter. Her quest leads her to Cardinal Chang, a deadly and disreputable assassin, seeking vengeance for a murdered lover, and Doctor Abelard Svenson, a noble yet disillusioned naval surgeon protecting his prince from an unknown threat. The trio discovers a shocking plot involving "glass books" that contain people's stolen memories and experiences, used by a powerful cabal to manipulate and control.

As they delve deeper into this dark mystery, navigating a labyrinth of betrayal and deception, they must rely on their wits and each other to survive. "What are our minds but mysteries and mayhem?" ponders Doctor Svenson, encapsulating the psychological depth and complexity of their journey.

"The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters" is a thrilling blend of steampunk, mystery, and erotic thriller, offering an epic tale of courage, resilience, and the unyielding pursuit of truth in a world where nothing is as it seems. This novel is perfect for readers who relish dense narratives rich with atmosphere and intricate plots.

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder

"The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack" by Mark Hodder catapults readers into a wildly inventive steampunk version of Victorian London, where history takes a strange and exhilarating detour. The novel centers around Sir Richard Francis Burton, an explorer and linguist of high renown who never got to lead the Nile Expedition because of a twist of fate—delivered by a bizarre creature known as Spring Heeled Jack.

The plot thickens when Burton, alongside his sidekick, the poet Algernon Swinburne, is tasked with investigating the mysterious appearances of this Spring Heeled Jack, who is terrorizing the citizens with his supernatural leaps and fiery breath. As Burton and Swinburne delve deeper into the mystery, they uncover a tangled web of plots involving futuristic technologies, genetic mutations, and a secret society with the power to alter time itself.

Set against the backdrop of a London filled with airships, clockwork contraptions, and Victorian vigor, the characters face challenges that question their understanding of reality. "One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane," notes Swinburne, reflecting the novel’s playful yet profound exploration of madness and genius.

"The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack" is a thrilling adventure that blends historical figures and imaginative fiction, creating a fantastical romp through a past that never was. It’s perfect for readers who enjoy a dash of whimsy with their suspense and are ready for a journey that leaps off the conventional path.


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