The more I got into working on the Queen (and reading Steampunk), the more I realized I wasn’t a true fit for the larger genre. Not wanting to upset potential readers, I’ve decided to market The Queen more as a gaslamp fantasy and less a steampunk novel. In reading the definitions below, I knew I had the right genre for my book. That isn’t to say that fan of steampunk won’t enjoy Queen Juliette’s adventures, it’s more about a correctly defined genre.
So, what is Gaslamp Fantasy? (Source).
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
- 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.
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.