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Tag Archive: Victoriana


Victoriana meets steampunk and mythology in an upcoming series.  With production design that evokes The Golden Compass, Harry Potter, and the gloom of Charles Dickens, Amazon Studios’ new Carnival Row has all the elements of a good fantasy.  With two big stars, Cara Delevingne (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) and Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings), it looks to be the next series to keep an eye on.

At San Diego Comic-Con this week, Amazon Studios’ released two introductions to the series, presented by the two lead actors.  The best feature may be the beautiful accompanying music by Nathan Barr, composer of many a horror show.  And this has plenty of its own blood and gore.  A detective show, a mystery and a fantasy world with its own look despite familiar influences, Carnival Row will be a certain pick to binge-watch next month.

Check out these new previews from SDCC 2019 of Carnival Row:

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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

In the small-but-crowded field of Victorian true crime, Paul Thomas Murphy′s 2016 release Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane: A True Story of Victorian Law and Disorder presents a notable installment in the genre.  Covering a lesser-known crime that was the sensation of its day, Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane details the brutal murder of Jane Clouson, a sixteen-year-old London maid-of-all-work, and the legal fiasco that followed, including—but hardly limited to—the murder trial of suspect Edmund Pook.  Murphy begins his account like a thriller, a police procedural of a bygone era of evolving law enforcement and burgeoning forensics.  His heroes are the detectives, witnesses, and doctors who come forward to uncover the truth of Clouson’s attack—and the identity of her attacker.  Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane is available now in a paperback edition.

In his riveting step-by-step analysis of the investigation, Murphy paints a vivid picture of 1870s London—its law enforcement, its residents, and the neighborhoods torn apart by the culture clash of young Clouson’s murder.  This section of the book really shines, offering both an excellent overview of period forensic science and police procedure, as well as enticing tidbits like the cost of a photograph or the unexpectedly fascinating workings of a ironmonger’s shop from the era.

The second part of Murphy’s tale, leading readers through the labyrinth of the 19th century English justice system, loses a bit of momentum, although that’s as much the challenge of presenting the welter of material about the case (four separate steps to the murder trial and all the attendant solicitors, barristers, judges, and witnesses) as the challenge of making the mystifying Victorian trial process understandable.  That said, it’s unclear who the audience for the book is meant to be—American readers wholly unfamiliar with the byzantine and confusing steps of a Victorian murder trial; or English readers who will find the basics—if not the details (which have changed substantially in the intervening 145 years)—relatable.  Readers brand-new to the subject will likely find themselves lost and confused by references to the Treasury Department (which handled many public prosecutions until the 1980s) and similar trappings, and may struggle to stick with the book through the legal morass.  It is not a spoiler to note that Pook was acquitted of the murder, but the legal battles surrounding him were far from over.  Murphy offers up a cast of characters who, beyond mere professional adversaries, become almost mortal enemies as the many facets of the case churn on.

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Steampunk dirigible

Resident young adult novelist and borg.com contributor Elizabeth C. Bunce has been a fan of James Blaylock since stumbling across a copy of The Paper Grail in her college library.  When borg.com was offered an early look at The Aylesford Skull, the latest installment in Blaylock’s steampunk series about gentleman explorer Langdon St. Ives–and an interview with the author–she literally jumped at the chance.  And there may also have been some fangirl squealing.  Welcome to borg.com, Jim!

ECB:  First, let’s talk a little about “steampunk.”  How would you define the term, and especially how your works fit into the genre?  What do you make of the current craze of non-literary steampunk “lifestyle”–costumes, conventions, etc.?

JPB:  This is a complicated question, but I’ll give it a shot.  I’m not crazy about defining the term at all closely.  Definitions are best left to reviewers and critics; writers shouldn’t have anything to do with them.  Most Steampunk is Victorian, but if that were a requirement, then Tim Powers’s early novels don’t qualify.  The Anubis Gates, which is pre-Victorian (George III, if I’m not mistaken) is obviously a seminal Steampunk novel and one of the best ever written.  His recent Hide Me Among the Graves is Victorian, but there aren’t many Steampunk trappings in it, and he certainly didn’t write it with the idea that he was producing Steampunk.  Definitions seem to me to be immaterial at best.  With apologies to a number of contemporary writers, I can’t quite say how The Aylesford Skull fits into the genre, because I don’t read very much contemporary science fiction and fantasy.  I’m not anxious to know anything about requisite genre contrivances.  That being said, I’ve always been a fan of dirigibles.  I remember very clearly my mother and I walking several blocks from our home in Lakewood, California, to look at a Goodyear blimp when I was four or five years old.  I grew up dreaming about that blimp.  It’s not surprising that my first Steampunk novel (written years before K.W. Jeter coined the term) featured a dirigible.  I put it in there because the story wanted a dirigible and because I wanted a dirigible.  Along those same lines, my father kept a small keg on his workbench at home that was full of all manner of small metallic and wooden pieces of this and that, which he pitched into the keg instead of into the trash.  As a child I spent a heap of time sorting through it, picking out clock gears and other likely looking oddments, sorting them, and arranging and rearranging them on the bench top.  There was no purpose in it.  I simply liked the look of a gear. Clockwork somethings were bound to find their way into my stories.  I find that it’s impossible for me to write anything if I’m wondering what the audience wants or expects, and so for the sake of my writing I can’t think in terms of genre expectations.  It’s also impossible for me to write without loading up the story with the things that I want, including dirigibles, gears, fog-shrouded streets, squids, leaf-like fish and other magical things.  I hope that makes sense.

AylesfordSkull cover

One last thing in that regard: reviewers often refer to my novel The Digging Leviathan as Steampunk, or as having Steampunk “tropes” or a Steampunk attitude.  In fact it’s set in the Los Angeles of the late 1950s, or at least an imagined Los Angeles.  Reviewers seem to be saying the same thing about my novel Zeuglodon, which is set in northern California in what seems to be the same out-of-time world in which The Digging Leviathan is set.  Readers with a fixed idea of Steampunk might be slightly mystified, I think, if they were to read those two books after reading such a review.  Perhaps it’s enough to say that they have Steampunk “sensibilities.”  I like that very well, because it’s sufficiently foggy, and it inflates the definition of Steampunk to the point at which the term threatens to lose its shape entirely. As for the non-literary Steampunk lifestyle, I love it.  I marvel at the whole lot of it.  I’m far too introverted to wear costumes, although I wore an Edwardian tuxedo on my wedding day (or so it was described by the rental company).  I’m a big fan of Steampunk jewelry.  I buy into so-called Steampunk philosophy.  Also, I’m attracted to the idea that Steampunk aficionados aren’t merely being theatrical, but that they’re in fact creating a Steampunk world within our own world in which they can exist.  I wonder whether the Steampunk craze will reach some kind of critical mass, and such a thing will come true: one day we’ll walk out the front door and there’ll be a dirigible hovering overhead and someone wearing a beaver hat tootling past on a steam-driven octopus velocipede.  I’d open a bottle of champagne.

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