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Gaslamp Fantasy

What is Gaslamp Fantasy?

Gaslamp Fantasy is a genre bending sub-genre that belongs to both Fantasy and Historical Fiction and borrows tropes, themes, and even characters from Gothic fiction—the supernatural features heavily in sub-genre. Gaslamp was coined in order to separate works from the ever-growing Steampunk sub-genre because Gaslamp works are not 'punk.'

The term was first used by Kaja Foglio to describe her comic series, Girl Genius. Sometimes called Gaslight, the term refers to lamps fueled by gas. Gaslamps have a particular ambiance—worthy of literary use and great for creating that atmosphere so important to Gothic fiction.

The first public lighting was in 1807—Gaslamp Fantasy takes place in the Regency, Edwardian, or Victorian era England (or a place with heavy British cultural influences). Gaslamps are a distinctive part of the setting because they were a relatively short lived technology and provide a sense of nostalgia and historical authenticity. The ambiance of gaslamps is also a big part of the sub-genre's visual appeal. There is a strong community of visual artists interested in Gaslamp Fantasy. Indeed, comics and graphic novels have a strong and defining presence within the sub-genre.

 

Gaslamp Fantasy Characteristics

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  • Level of Magic

    Moderate. Gaslamp Fantasy has strong associations with the supernatural, none of which are particularly inventive because the sub-genre draws so much from the conventions of other genres. However, magic does have a somewhat unique application, as compared to more traditional fantasy. The magic of the Gaslamp world is often intertwined with technology, or mechanical objects and as such must be a well developed system.

  • Level of Grand Ideas and Social Implications

    Variable. Anytime the setting is an alternate history of some sort there is great potential for social commentary. Alternate histories allow readers to re-examine, not just historical events, but the societal and political structures that surround those events and to see them in a new light—in the case of Gaslamp Fantasy, with a bit of the magical and supernatural woven in. 

    As always, not all authors will take advantage of its potential or, at least, of its furthest potential.

  • Level of Characterization

    Moderate. Gaslamp Fantasy draws on several literary traditions and updates them for a modern audience. In so doing, the sub-genre will often use stock characters to populate its world, but the sub-genre also has the power to reinvent characters.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    Variable. There isn't a standard plot for Gaslamp Fantasy and because the sub-genre draws from so many other traditions, the types and complexities of plots varies greatly. A plot may be a tangled web of social interactions, or a twisty-turny, page-turner uncovering clues and solving mysteries, or a historical retelling where the outcome is predetermined (or is it?).

  • Level of Violence

    Variable. Gaslamp Fantasy crosses genre and sub-genre lines, and these other influences define the level of violence better than the term Gaslamp. For example, Gaslamp Fantasy that crosses with the Horror genre have higher levels of violence. Whereas stories in the Fantasy of Manners sub-genre have very little violence, instead focusing on wit and social intrigue.

Related Fantasy Subgenres

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    Steampunk. Steampunk and Gaslamp are very similar sub-genres, but Steampunk generally has more Sci Fi elements and often takes place in an undefined time period. Also, Gaslamp is not very punk.

  • Historical Fantasy. Gaslamp Fantasy takes place in an historical setting, the Victorian, Regency, or Edwardian period and while it usually presents an alternate history, historical events and figures will often play a part in the story.

  • Vampire Fantasy. Vampires and other supernatural creatures make regular appearances in Gaslamp Fantasy (mostly because of its ties to the Gothic). 

  • Fantasy of Manners. Gaslamp Fantasy is set in the right time period for elaborate social hierarchy, urban settings, and a bit of wit and intrigue, so these two sub-genres have plenty of common ground.

Gaslamp Fantasy Isn’t For You If...

If you aren't in the mood for all things British. Gaslamp is particularly associated with British history and culture—so even in an alternate history or setting, British influences are significant. So, if you're looking for a story with a truly new, creative, and fantastical world, Gaslamp is not for you. 

If you want a story about driving someone mad. Gaslighting, very similar in name to Gaslamp (a.k.a. Gaslight), is in fact a different term that means to purposefully alter a person's environment in order to make a person believe s/he is going crazy, until s/he actually does. If you're expecting a story about psychological tampering, this is not for you.

Popular Gaslamp Fantasy Books
  • 1 His Dark Materials


    By Phillip Pullman. A YA or Juvinelle series set in across multiple universes and starting in an alternate Victorian-era Europe. Strong gothic influences, including a theme of innocence lost as well as magical and supernatural elements.

  • 2 Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell


    By Susanna Clarke. The revival of magic in an alternate Britain with two very different magicians and some fairies, too.

  • 3 Temeraire


    By Naomi Novik,. Follows the story of a captain in the British Dragon Corps during the Napoleonic Wars.

  • 4 The Spiritwalker Trilogy


    By Kate Elliott. An alternate history of the Napoleonic Wars, just when gaslamps are being introduced—gaslamps are a source of tension between the people and the magical aristocracy.

  • 5 Queen Victoria's Book of Spells


    By Ellen Datlow. and Terri Windling eds. An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy. A collection of short stories by a diverse set of contributors.

  • 6 Gemma Doyle


    By Libba Bray. This trilogy follows a group of young Victorian ladies and is part boarding school story, part Gothic mystery, and also dark and magical.

  • 7 Infernal Devices


    By Cassandra Clare. A prequel series that is set in Victorian England and focuses on the tensions between two sects of supernatural beings and a girl who seeks her true identity. With romance, supernatural beings and powers, allusions to canonical Victorian literature, and a bit of mystery, this is an example of a story that draws from many literary traditions.

  • 8 Strangely Beautiful


    By Leanna Renee Hieber. Ghostly, Gothic, Victorian, romantic, this award winning series has an ethereal quality.

  • 9 The Magicians and Mrs. Quent


    By Galen Beckett. With influences from literary giants like Austen and the Bronte sisters, this first novel weaves a story of adventure, magic, and manners together with a fight between everlasting darkness and light.

  • 10 Girl Genius


    By Kaja Foglio. A comic and the series for which the sub-genre was named, is a series of on-going comics filled with adventure, romance, and mad science. It is more Sci Fi than Fantasy and is a great example of where the sub-genre started and how it's grown

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