Queen Victoria's Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasyby Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling
"Gaslamp Fantasy," or historical fantasy set in a magical version of the nineteenth century, has long been popular with readers and writers alike. A number of wonderful fantasy novels, including Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and The Prestige by Christopher Priest, owe their inspiration to works by/i>/i>/i>
"Gaslamp Fantasy," or historical fantasy set in a magical version of the nineteenth century, has long been popular with readers and writers alike. A number of wonderful fantasy novels, including Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and The Prestige by Christopher Priest, owe their inspiration to works by nineteenth-century writers ranging from Jane Austen, the Brontës, and George Meredith to Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and William Morris. And, of course, the entire steampunk genre and subculture owes more than a little to literature inspired by this period.
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells is an anthology for everyone who loves these works of neo-Victorian fiction, and wishes to explore the wide variety of ways that modern fantasists are using nineteenth-century settings, characters, and themes. These approaches stretch from steampunk fiction to the Austen-and-Trollope inspired works that some critics call Fantasy of Manners, all of which fit under the larger umbrella of Gaslamp Fantasy. The result is eighteen stories by experts from the fantasy, horror, mainstream, and young adult fields, including both bestselling writers and exciting new talents such as Elizabeth Bear, James Blaylock, Jeffrey Ford, Ellen Kushner, Tanith Lee, Gregory Maguire, Delia Sherman, and Catherynne M. Valente, who present a bewitching vision of a nineteenth century invested (or cursed!) with magic.
A Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction Book of 2013
“A superb sampling of urban fantasy.... You will have fun with all twenty stories.” Booklist on Naked City
“This is a treasure chest. Open it and revel in its riches.” Kirkus Reviews, starred review on The Faery Reel
“An often sophisticated view of the world [and] a real sense of how powerful nature can be in its various guises.” School Library Journal on The Green Man
“An enchanting, witty collection of original stories.... This superior volume proves that the notion of modern-day Grimms, Andersens and Wildes isn't just a fairy tale.” Publishers Weekly on Black Thorn, White Rose
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Queen Victoria's Book of SpellsAn Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy
By Ellen Datlow
Tor BooksCopyright © 2013 Ellen Datlow
All right reserved.
QUEEN VICTORIA’S BOOK OF SPELLS
I’m in Windsor Castle.
To be exact, I’m in the Round Tower, in the Reading Room of the Royal Archives. It’s raining outside—not an astonishing occurrence, given English springs. My feet are wet and will undoubtedly stay wet because the Royal Archives are like a meat locker. The Royal Archivist has an electric fire under her desk and still looks cold.
On the table in front of me lies a stout folio volume, bound in red calf, with Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells stamped on the cover in gold. Beside it lies a pair of acid-free, white, cotton gloves. As soon as I put them on, I will have begun what my sponsor, Sir Reginald Jolley, calls the Victoria Project.
It’s a real plum. Reggie has told me so, numerous times. “There are wizards all over England,” he says, “with bloodlines going back generations, dying to get their hands on Victoria’s spell book. You should be grateful.”
And I might be. If I were a Victorianist. If the project were actually mine.
Slowly, I pull the clownish gloves over my hands and rest my cold fingers lightly on the cover. Through the thin cotton I feel a faint prickling, like a mild electrical charge. My excitement rises, as it does when I discover a new oratio obscura.
An oratio obscura (the phrase means “hidden word”) is a spell that obscures text. It’s like a code in that it can be used to hide sensitive information from prying eyes. There are three basic orationes obscurae, which, with their respective aperients (revealers), are familiar to any bright schoolchild with access to a spell book. People with more important secrets to hide typically craft their own, personalized variations, giving out the aperients (if at all) on a need-to-know basis. It’s possible to create a new aperient for a custom oratio obscura, but not easy. They’re hard to detect, hard to analyse, hard to unravel.
I’m lucky. I have a talent for it.
I can’t take credit for it, really—it’s genetic. Both my parents are preternaturally good at finding things. Mom finds tumours in cancer patients. Dad finds oil deposits. I find encoded texts.
I open the book.
The text of Victoria’s first diary entry hides nothing but the creamy linen paper it covers. It has been quoted often. But it’s different seeing it in the fourteen-year-old princess’s own hand:
JUNE 7, 1833
Today is my first lesson in magic. My tutor is Sir Thomas Basingstoke, of the Royal College of Wizards. He is a Professor of Practical Magic. Mamma says a lesser wizard would be sufficient to teach a neophyte her first spells, but he says it is an honour to teach the future Queen of England. He has given me this book for the spells I learn and the theory behind them, as well as any exercises he may give me to strengthen my self-discipline.
The lesson was very odd. He began by asking me to knock a spillikin from a table without touching it, which I did. And he asked me about my dreams and whether I was prone to sleepwalking. Mamma answered that I was not.
Next week we will begin to study magic in earnest, with a spell to light a candle.
I remember lighting my first candle. It was in seventh grade. The spell was in the book of basic spells I’d stolen from my mother’s study. It worked the first time I tried it, although I almost set the house on fire. My parents sent me to the Westaway Magic Academy in Amherst. I did well enough to earn a free ride to Harvard, where I majored in thaumaturgy.
I discovered my sensitivity to text junior year at Harvard. I was home for Thanksgiving break, hanging out in Dad’s study, when I felt something odd in a letter on my father’s desk. It was a business letter, about oil rights, as I recall, from an associate of Dad’s, and it burned my fingers. On the off chance this might mean something, I ran a decoding spell over the letter. It was from the business associate, all right, but it was a love letter. A torrid love letter, which made it clear that Dad had been living a double life for years.
That night, when Dad came home, I was waiting for him. Mom heard us arguing, came in to see what the fuss was about, and—well, the cat was out of the bag. It wasn’t pretty. Mom and Dad divorced. Dad moved to Amsterdam to be with his lover. I applied to the Master of Thaumaturgy program at York University, which led to my current Junior Research Fellowship in the History of Magic at John Dee College at Cambridge University, under the direction of Sir Reginald Jolley, BT, MT, DThau.
Reggie is a jerk. The grants he gets for his fellows are generally more useful to him than they are to the fellows. My current project is a prime example.
Up until recently, Queen Victoria’s spell book caused everybody to assume that Victoria’s magical education was limited to the candle-lighting and silk-sorting taught to all young women of noble blood. It is little more than a commonplace book of spells and potions copied down from other sources, of interest mostly to biographers and scholars of women’s studies. Then Prince Philip, the only royal with a degree in Scientific Magic, ran his newly invented thaumatograph over it and discovered that the T-readings were off-the-charts high.
This fluttered the dovecotes of every Department of Thaumaturgical Study all over England. It is a tribute to Reggie’s wheeling-and-dealing skills, as well as the purity of his pedigree (his father is the Earl of Avon), that the grant should come to John Dee. Not to mention the fact that he had a canary to check out the magical mines for him.
That would be me.
Which is why I’m stuck here in the Royal Archives, reading a teenager’s exercise book. A royal teenager, granted, but I don’t care about that.
Victoria had one two-hour magic lesson a week. With summers off for grand tours through England with her mother and her household, that works out to between thirty and forty entries a year, at a page or more a lesson. In order to get a feel for her personal oratio obscura, the way her mind works, the kind of spells she knew how to cast, I have to read them all. In order.
JUNE 22, 1833
(A Receipt for a Potion Against Carriage Sickness.)
Today’s lesson was to be summoning a breeze, which is the first lesson in the Mastery of Air. However, as Mamma is planning another tour, I begged Sir T to teach me some small cantrip or spell against carriage sickness, from which I suffer extremely. He gave me the receipt I have writ down above. It is my first potion, and I am eager to try it.
Eager to make a mess, I suspect. I know I was, at that age—although my messes were more likely to explode than to settle the stomach.
My hands are so cold they ache. I cast a very small warming spell. The Royal Archivist shakes her head warningly. I flash her my most charming smile. She does not seem to be charmed. Her eyes are slightly exophthalmic, very good for glaring.
Noon brings me to the end of 1833 and my endurance simultaneously. I find a pub, eat, and warm up. Then it’s back to the Royal Icehouse for more schoolgirl exercises. I’m glad to see Victoria’s potion seems to have relieved her motion sickness, although it didn’t do a thing for the backaches brought on by hours in a jolting carriage. Improved carriage springs—and the smoother roads they ran on—were mechanical breakthroughs, not magical ones. And mechanics, like science, was a skill of the working classes. Magic, in those days, was the sole prerogative of the nobility.
Reggie frequently bemoans (humorously, of course) the passage of the Alchemical Act of 1914, opening the study of English magic to foreigners and commoners. He seems to think that my American blood somehow makes me more foreign than if Mom were French or German. But what he really minds is my father, who may be as English as five o’clock tea, but is also descended from a long line of engineers and fabricators, as black-blooded (the idiom refers to coal) as Reggie is blue-blooded (the idiom refers to haemophilia).
The afternoon wears on. I’m cold and irritated and so impatient to reach the first oratio obscura, I almost miss the telltale tingle, like a cell phone vibrating deep in a briefcase. It’s pretty faint, but then my hands are freezing. I huff on my fingers, rub them together like a safecracker, and check again. Yep. There it is.
My heart rate goes up. I close my eyes and search for the threads of the spell. It’s a variant of the oldest of the basic orationes obscurae—simple, elegant, clearly not the work of a girl who has been studying magic for less than a year. Bit by bit, I feel my way into it, and text relaxes under my hands like a Victorian lady released from her corset, revealing the second text that lurks beneath it.
JANUARY 4, 1834
(Text hidden under a Spell for Finding Lost Objects)
Today Sir T (who has a nose like a parrot’s beak and smells most pungently of bay rum) taught me a very special spell. Its purpose is to keep anything I write hidden from all eyes save my own. I said I should never wish to write anything Mamma or dear Lehzen might not read. He said he did not doubt that, but that I might well change my mind as I grew older.
The spell is extremely advanced. I am a little anxious lest my casting be clumsy. Were Mamma to discover that I have tried to keep secrets, I shall be writing in my Book of Good Behaviour for hours.
Later: TRIUMPH! Both Sir T and Lehzen have read over my opening words without so much as a conscious look. Lehzen, of course, cannot penetrate the flimsiest illusion. But Sir T is a powerful Wizard—much more powerful than Mamma, who cannot levitate a teacup without slopping its contents into the saucer. In any case, as he did not react to my uncivil (though accurate) description of his nose, I am confident he could not read it!
I like my magic lessons extremely. I only wish I had one every day.
No sooner have I read the entry—the true entry—than the spell snaps back over it.
In the Reading Room of the Royal Archive, it’s not the done thing to cheer or even cry “Eureka!” The Archivist would certainly object, might even turf me out, permission from the Royal College of Wizards notwithstanding. I restrict myself to beaming goofily down at the page.
I look up. The Archivist is hovering at my elbow, looking stern.
“The Reading Room closes at five thirty, Dr Ransome.”
“Oh, yes, of course. Listen, I’ve just found something interesting, I wonder if I might—”
“The book will still be here in the morning.”
Her round face is stern. I remind myself that it never pays to alienate the support staff. On my way out, I humbly request a table near an outlet for my computer, then retreat to the nearest pub for a celebratory pint.
The Windsor Knot is not my first choice for a watering hole. It’s a Victorian theme park of a pub, all horse brasses and tartan carpeting and men in Savile Row suits. But it’s near the archive and they brew their own beer. I take my hoppy bitter to a table in a back corner and try to sort out my emotions.
I should be pleased. I am pleased. My first day of work, and already I’ve cracked Victoria’s code. From now on, it’s just a matter of finding the coded entries and transcribing them. Easy. Mechanical. Boring. Victoria as a girl is rather charming, but I can’t forget that she grew up to be the Widow of Windsor, prim, pious, pigheaded, perennially unamused. After all the research I’ve done on her for this project, I’m forced to admit that she was a better ruler than her grandfather or either of her uncles, but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement, given that George III was barking mad, George IV a libertine, and William IV a royal wastrel. And I profoundly disapprove of her support of the Crimean War and her expansionist policies and her championship of the Alien Magic Act of 1862.
You’d think she would have known better, given her ghastly childhood.
From the moment her father, the Duke of Kent, died, when Victoria was eight months old, to the moment she became queen of England at eighteen, her mother and Sir John Conroy, her mother’s treasurer and secretary, oversaw every aspect of her life. They developed something they called the Kensington System, after the palace King George IV had given them to live in, designed to keep the young princess safe from infection, accident, and making her own decisions.
Victoria was never to be alone. She spent her days with her governess, the Baroness Lehzen, and her nights in her mother’s room. She could not go up or down the stairs without someone holding her hand. She had to record her transgressions in a Book of Good Behaviour and each day’s events in a journal. Every word she wrote was read and approved by her mother.
Except, apparently, these.
Limited magical education, my sweet aunt Sally. Clearly, there was more to Our Dear Queen than even the most revisionist historians have imagined. Reggie is going to be delighted. I just wish I didn’t feel quite so much like a trained pig, hunting for truffles.
* * *
The next morning is clear and brisk. The Reading Room is cold as a tomb. The Royal Archivist, looking like a tiny Michelin Man in a puffy down vest, is up on a ladder with a clipboard. She descends when she sees me and shows me to a table by a narrow window. Icy drafts seep under the wooden frame, but there’s a grounded double outlet in easy reach. I wrap my muffler around my neck, set up my computer, and get to work.
At first, Victoria is sparing in her use of the oratio obscura. In early July, she encodes a quarrel with her mother; two weeks later, a small trick played on Conroy’s daughter Victoria. Then comes something Reggie will love.
SEPTEMBER 12, 1834
(Text hidden under A Receipt for Sorting Embroidery Silks)
C particularly horrid today. I am astonished that Mamma allows herself to be ruled by such a monster. I have heard the Duke of Wellington say that they are lovers, presuming, perhaps that I would not understand his meaning. Well, I do understand, and I think that he is wrong. Primus, I have often heard Mamma remark upon the foulness of C’s breath, which does not sound lover-like; Secundus, Mamma retires to bed with me, even when C sleeps at Kensington; Tertius, C is Irish and baseborn and Mamma is a Princess and very proud.
If it weren’t for the fact that Sir John Conroy was, by all accounts, vain, controlling, and cruel, I might have some sympathy for him. I’ve had my own difficulties infiltrating the sacred company of English wizards. Admittedly, I’m also hampered by my politics, which have inspired Reggie to call me a Communist. He has also, at different times, called me a boor (for coming to work in jeans), and an uncultured, bourgeois Yank (pretty much constantly). If I weren’t a kind of magical sniffer-dog as well, he’d have found a way to get rid of me by now. As it is, I’m useful. And John Dee College does have the most prestigious Department of Thaumaturgy in the country.
As I turn the page, I wonder just what Victoria understood about lovers and how she came by her information. Frustratingly, she doesn’t say.
* * *
Days pass. Outside, it’s either raining or about to rain—or, occasionally, to sleet: in other words, a typical English spring. The Archivist huddles over her electric fire; I take to wearing thermal underwear. I’m becoming a regular at the Windsor Knot.
Page by hidden page, I watch Victoria learn the basic principles of Elemental Magic. In early 1835, she begins using a new oratio obscura. It’s simpler than the old one, but it takes me much longer to find my way into it. When I do, I find that she has invented it herself. She uses it to complain about her mother and fantasise about what she’d do to Sir John, if Sir Thomas would only consent to teach her some curses. She’s surprisingly inventive, and more than once the Archivist is forced to request that I refrain from laughing.
JULY 3, 1835
(Text hidden under A Spell to Make Dolls Dance)
Today, I asked Sir T if I might not learn a spell that would allow Dash to walk upon his hind legs and speak sensibly. Sir T looked grave. “There is a cost to such spells, Your Highness,” he said. “A dog’s legs and back are not designed by Nature to bear him upright, nor his mind for human discourse. He would pay a price of pain, confusion, and possible madness.”
When I heard this, I caught my dearest Dashie in my arms and promised, sobbing, that I would never, never cause him as much as a moment’s pain. When I was calm again, Sir T taught me a spell to animate my dolls, which amused me extremely. Lehzen, however, finds their wooden capers so distasteful I am determined never to cast it when she is present.
Most wizards wouldn’t think twice about turning a spaniel into a miniature courtier, if they knew the spell. Power is heady stuff. I know. Once you’ve had a little, you want more. I’ve never met a wizard who didn’t have control issues. Look at Reggie. After all, what is magic but the exercise of control over the essentially uncontrollable: nature, physics, logic, free will? A wizard who doesn’t, on some level, want to abuse the power magic gives him (or her) isn’t a very good wizard.
Victoria, apparently, was a very good wizard. With a conscience, which is a lot rarer. And nobody’s wooden dancing doll.
JULY 10, 1835
(Text hidden under a passage on Spells of Influence and Coercion, from On Political Magic, by Viscount Mortimer)
I have been wondering whether C might not have cast a Spell of Coercion on Mamma. There is something about the way she never, ever disagrees with him, even when he is wrong. As he himself could not be a wizard, he must have hired a wizard to cast it—a Foreign wizard, for I will not believe an English wizard would so debase himself. I cannot but wonder why he has not had one cast upon me.
I have heard that my Uncle King, when he was Regent, used spells of coercion upon respectable ladies to make them fall in love with him. I find this extremely shocking. I would never, upon any provocation whatsoever, use such a spell. It is wrong to tamper with the free will of any human soul.
I’ve been wondering myself when Victoria would work out that particular equation. She’s bright, but not terribly imaginative. Also a terrible snob. I note, without surprise, that she is incapable of believing that a baseborn Irishman would be able to enchant a royal duchess. Commoners don’t learn magic. Therefore, commoners can’t learn magic. QED.
A year of dealing with Reggie has persuaded me that, the law and all evidence to the contrary, deep down, he believes the same thing. Which is probably why he felt free to cast a coercion spell on me.
It was not long after I’d turned down a flattering offer of an off-campus fling. Not because he’s a man, mind you—I’ve never seen the point of limiting myself to one gender when it comes to lovers. I do, however, limit myself to people I actually fancy. Which is what I told Reggie, with perhaps more force than diplomacy. The episode was unpleasant, but I thought the subject closed.
Until I found myself in Reggie’s office, unbuttoning my shirt and wondering how I’d failed to notice before how utterly hot he was. If he’d just sat still, I’d probably have been another notch on his bedpost before I knew what was happening. Because he couldn’t wait to get his hands on me, because he stood up, leering and eager, the spell broke.
I left his office even more abruptly than I’d entered, went to the loo, and was sick. Then I washed my face in cold water and got back to work.
Of course I thought about turning him in, but what would that have gotten me? Humiliated, unemployed, with a cloud over my head that would make employment at a first-class institution all but impossible.
It has crossed my mind that this project is Reggie’s idea of a fitting punishment for escaping his clutches. If I don’t turn up anything useful, so sad, too bad, not all scholars can make the grade, and I’m out on my ear, scrambling for a job teaching survey courses. If I do, he gets lots of lovely data for his next book.
AUGUST 15, 1835
Hateful touring. Hateful, hateful carriages and crowds and having to smile when my head aches and Mamma refusing to believe that I feel unwell, even when I am fainting from weariness. Yet even this endless travel is preferable to Kensington, with C insisting I appoint him my private secretary when I am queen and Mamma insisting that I dismiss dearest Lehzen.
I refused. Lehzen is the only person in the whole of England who loves me for myself alone. And I would rather have an adder or a rat for my secretary than C. He has turned Mamma into a mindless automaton, who smiles when he threatens me and agrees that I am stupid, childish, undutiful, unfit to be Queen. With Lehzen’s help, I stand my ground, but I do not scruple to confess that I fear John Conroy as much as I loathe him.
I think about the Duchess of Kent smiling and nodding while Conroy does his methodical best to break her daughter’s spirit. It’s not exactly news—there are accounts in all the standard biographies of the lengths Conroy went to try to make himself de facto king of England. But seeing it in her own hand makes it more real, more immediate.
The next entry, written during Victoria’s convalescence from a bad case of typhoid in September of 1835, is even more infuriating.
NOVEMBER 15, 1835
(Text hidden under a Spell to Change the Colour of Silk Ribbons)
I hate Sir John Conroy. I know this is a sin. But so is it a sin to persecute the sick. While I lay ill almost to the point of death, he read me a letter he had prepared in which I declared myself too young to be Queen and appointed Mamma my Regent and himself my Private Secretary and Personal Treasurer until I am twenty-five years of age! Then he thrust a pen between my fingers and commanded me to sign it.
I held firm in my refusal, despite his bullying and Mamma’s tears and recriminations. My anger strengthened me wonderfully, while Lehzen, with her kind looks, reminded me that I need only endure a little while longer, until my 18th birthday frees me from the threat of a regency.
Sometimes, I hate Mamma hardly less than C. Surely a mother’s duty is to comfort and protect her child, not stand by while a monster savages her. I try to remind myself that she is unable to help herself. Still, it is hard to forgive her.
Poor kid, I think. Poor isolated, beleaguered, abused kid. Who, I remind myself, will be crowned queen of England before she turns nineteen. Who will banish Conroy back into obscurity, move Mamma’s apartments as far from her own as the endless corridors of Buckingham Palace will allow, marry the love of her life, and live happily—if not ever after, at least for the next twenty years.
Still. She didn’t know that when she wrote in her Book of Spells.
I’m lucky. My parents are proud of me. “You’re like me,” Mom says. “Total dedication to your career!” “Ruthless,” Dad says. “A scholar has to be ruthless to get ahead.”
I would be delighted to be ruthless. All I need is an opportunity.
The Archivist is beside me. I get the impression she’s been there for a while. “Last call,” she says.
MAY 13, 1836
We are over-run with princes!! In March, there was Prince Augustus of Saxe-Coburg-Kohary and his brother Ferdinand; in April, the Princes of Orange. Augustus is good looking and quite clever, although not so handsome as Ferdinand, who is worldly and dances beautifully and kissed my cheek very near my lips. I love him extremely, but he is to marry the Queen of Portugal. The Oranges will not do. In fact, I wonder at anyone thinking that they might. They look like frogs, they dance like frogs, and their hands are damp, even through their gloves.
Uncle Leopold makes no secret of intending me to marry his nephew. He writes so frequently of Dear Albert’s beauty, purity, cleverness, and kindness, that I am quite sick of the subject. I shall do my duty, however, and strive to like him—better than the Orange frogs, in any case. I do hope he dances, because there is to be a ball for my 17th birthday, and I intend to be as dissipated as possible.
Reggie’s more like a bull than a frog, although he does have damp hands. The thought of him getting the inside scoop on Victoria and Albert’s love story is more than a little distasteful. Maybe I won’t tell him about it. Maybe I’ll just throw in the towel altogether and get a job on a freighter. There’s lots of time to read at sea.
MAY 30, 1836
What can Uncle Leopold be thinking? Albert is impossible. I suppose he is good-looking enough, or will be when he grows out of his spots and into his whiskers. His eyes are quite beautiful. But he is stiff and brusque, blushes when I speak, looks grave when I am merry, turns faint after two dances, and retires at eight. I would a thousand times rather marry his elder brother Ernest, who is much handsomer and more charming—though Uncle Leopold warns me that Ernest is very like my Uncle King, and likely to prove a sad husband.
In truth, I do not wish to marry at all. Yet it seems I will be compelled to do so. Lord Melbourne believes it unnatural for a woman to reign alone, and indeed, I have recently made some very serious errors of judgment that have cost me dearly. Albert is steady and thoughtful as I am not. And I have so few other choices. I have written Uncle Leopold what he wishes to hear and have promised Albert that I will answer any letters he may please to write me. But I am very unhappy. What is the use of being Queen when I may not please myself?
That doesn’t sound much like the romance of the century. I wonder what happened. I wonder if she’s going to write about it.
I’ve been here nearly two weeks. The Archivist has relented to the extent of giving me my own electric fire. My greatest disappointment is that Victoria would rather rant about how much she hates Conroy, her mother, and her life than talk about Albert, who she hardly mentions.
On May 26, 1837, she celebrates achieving her majority by inventing a new and more sophisticated oratio obscura, which takes me a full day to unravel. “My BIRTHDAY celebration was one in the eye for Mamma and C,” she writes, “who were hard-put to pay me the most commonplace compliments of the day.” She was now an adult, legally able to rule England in her own right. Unfortunately, it did not make her life significantly easier.
JUNE 15, 1837
(Text hidden under A Spell for Prolonging the Life of Cut Flowers)
Word comes from Windsor that Uncle William is almost certainly on the point of death. Mamma and C have redoubled their efforts to bully me into signing away my rightful authority. I am very, very weary. When I am Queen, I shall be able to speak my mind without fear. Or will I? Is it possible that my crown will prove but another, heavier chain upon my soul? My life here in Kensington is insupportable. Will my life in Buckingham Palace be less so? I do not know, I cannot tell, and I am very afraid.
I comfort myself with the certainty that I shall, at last, have a room of my own and need not show my journal to anyone if I do not wish to. I shall no longer be forced to hide my true thoughts in my Book of Spells. And yet I find I cannot contemplate abandoning it, any more than I can abandon Dash or Lehzen or my dolls.
This book holds the heart of a princess. Surely it may hold the heart of a QUEEN.
Victoria was young, so very young. Smarter than she thought she was, arrogant and insecure, with a strong sense of duty and a trusting nature scabbed over by repeated betrayals. I haven’t changed my opinion about hereditary monarchs, but nobody can say Victoria didn’t try to be a good one.
The next entry is dated October 11, 1839.
I check to see if pages have been torn out. They haven’t. Apparently, Victoria overstated her devotion to her spell book, if not to her spaniel or her governess. It’s interesting, though, that she should return to it the day after Albert comes to visit her for the second time.
(Text hidden under A Spell to Settle a Nervous Stomach)
I cannot think what is wrong with me. When I am with HIM, I feel quite clumsy. When by chance HIS hand brushes mine, my heart pounds so I am almost suffocated. Last night, I was visited by dreams that confused me extremely, and yet, upon waking, I longed to dream again. He is very beautiful, with his eyes like limpid pools and his mouth so grave and sweet, and his strong, broad shoulders. I love him so extremely that it quite frightens me.
But what if HE does not love me? He is so calm, so moderate! And I am so passionate, so headstrong! I yearn to kiss him, to feel his arms around my body, but dare not. He says he loves me, but I fear lest the violence of my love frighten and disgust him.
I know he will be a good and conformable husband to me, for he is very dutiful. Is it wrong of me to desire his love as well? I am Queen of England, but it will mean nothing if I cannot be Queen of ALBERT’S heart.
At this point, I am much less surprised by Victoria’s passion than she is. She’s always had it in her—all her heavy underlines, her violent hates and her no less violent enthusiasms, her sensual delight in music and dancing and food, indicate that she’s more like her Uncle King George IV than she knows. And yet there’s something there that’s more than lust, something that reads very much like real love.
I’ve never felt like that. Oh, I have had affairs, but love scares me. Mom and Dad loved each other, and they made each other miserable. Dad couldn’t bear being tied down; Mom couldn’t bear secrets and silences. The battleground of their marriage has left me with a fear of commitment and a perfect horror of manipulation and power games.
Victoria, who had even more pressing reasons to fear love than I do, clearly overcame them. Knowing the story has a happy ending, at least for her, I give an indulgent chuckle and turn the page.
October 13 is a short entry, hidden under a simple spell to keep domestic animals off the furniture: “He must love me. He shall love me. My plans are laid. I will go tonight.”
And then, nothing.
Well, nothing I can read, anyway. When I touch the entry dated October 15, I can feel the resonance of the oratio obscura clear to my teeth. But the obscuring knot is denser and more complex than anything I’ve ever seen before. I can’t even tell which spell it’s based on.
My first reaction is pure, unadulterated fury. Things were going along so smoothly—Victoria would come up with a new variation on her familiar theme, I’d unravel it. We were growing more sophisticated together. Why would she spring something like this on me?
In the back of my mind, my internalized Reggie Jolley chuckles nastily, “Because you’re a muck-common Yankee with ideas above your station and Victoria was queen of England, that’s why.”
“Shut up, Reggie,” I mutter.
The Archivist looks up from her work, startled. “Sorry? Did you say something?”
“I’m going to lunch.”
At the Windsor Knot, I order a pint of bitter and a packet of crisps. I don’t usually drink at lunch, but this is an emergency.
Oddly enough, I’m not mad at Victoria, who was just preserving her privacy, and effectively, too. If I’ve learned nothing else in the past two weeks, I’ve learned that she was a first-rate practical wizard.
Well, I’m not a bad practical wizard myself. And the thoroughness with which she’s locked this entry has got to mean that the mysterious plans mentioned on October 13 are startling indeed.
I must decode this entry. I will decode this entry.
I go back to the Royal Archives, exchange nods with the Archivist, and set to work.
Day after chill, dreary day, I commune with Victoria’s spell, analysing, tweaking, picking at its component threads. Lunch is a sandwich in the cloakroom. Sleep is a luxury I can’t afford. I’ve never seen a working like this before: seven separately structured spells, cast at intervals, woven into an all-but-impenetrable barrier. I haven’t had so much fun since I unravelled my first personalized oratio obscura.
Sunday night, after I hang up after talking to Dad, my cell phone rings. It’s Reggie.
There’s no use ignoring it. I’m going to have to talk to him sooner or later.
“Ransome,” he says, all hearty bonhomie. “How’s it coming?”
“Why haven’t you checked in? It’s been a fortnight.”
“I’ve been busy. There’s a lot of material to get through.”
“Good,” he says. “I look forward to your getting a preliminary report. Shall we say Tuesday?”
“Are you still there?” I say. “Sorry. I seem to have lost you.”
After that, I leave my mobile off.
It takes me seven solid days to untangle the spell. By the time I come up with an aperient that looks as if it should work, I’m almost too tired to cast it. But I can’t possibly wait until tomorrow to find out if it works. I suck back a cup of tarry tea in the staff canteen, come back upstairs, and cast the spell before I can lose my nerve.
The long, dull treatise on the permissible uses of magic in diplomacy falls away, revealing a heavily underlined scrawl.
Victoria always underlines a great deal when she’s upset.
OCTOBER 15, 1839
I am inexpressibly weary. Today, I have broken the law. I have betrayed everything dear, dear Lehzen and dear Sir T have taught me. Though I value truth extremely, I have lied and lied.
The first lie was a small one: I informed Lord Melbourne I desired to learn about the poorer boroughs of London. He said that only very low folk lived there, and I told him, quite in Mamma’s own manner, that I hoped I was their Queen as well. Which is not precisely a lie, for I do concern myself with the welfare of even the most wretched of my subjects, among whom the cunning folk of Greymalkin Lane and its environs must certainly be numbered.
I blush to remember the lies I told so that I might go to London. Suffice it to say that by 1/2 after 11, I was in a common hansom, disguised in a plain cloak. Alone, although for once I did not wish to be, for I possess no friend—not even Lehzen—I would trust not to betray me. Trust, no less than Truth, is a luxury a Queen cannot often afford.
Greymalkin Lane is a horrid place, narrow and foul, haunted with shadows that cough and spit and jeer. Having seen it with my own eyes, I shall never again be able to read Mr Dickens’s Witch Lane with pleasure—although it did teach me the sign I must look for: a card, marked with a heart and a dagger.
After much anxious searching, I saw such a card, stuck up in a window. The name on the card was “Madame Rusalka.”
The lady who answered my ring was as foreign as her nom de magie, with high, flat cheeks and a bright shawl embroidered with flowers. She led me into a small, shabby parlour, and once I had made her understand what I sought, left me, returning with a phial made of polished stone. “I sell this only because I am poor,” she said in strangely accented English. “Please to remember, should you regret what you do.” Struck by the intensity of her manner, I wept and assured her that I would remember. Then I begged her to fetch me a hansom (for I was still sadly distressed) and reached Buckingham Palace just before dawn.
The cost of the philtre was 30 shillings.
Today, I am extremely weary. When I am rested, I shall return to Windsor and take tea with my dearest Albert. Then I shall ask him to marry me.
[The page ends with a note, dated ten years later:] I have devised a sevenfold oratio obscura. Heaven grant it will keep my words safe from all eyes but mine.
The spell snaps shut as I reach the last line. If it weren’t for the cold sweat prickling my armpits and the pounding in my ears, I’d think I’d fallen asleep and dreamed it. But I didn’t. Victoria, twenty years old, popularly supposed to be sheltered, truthful, and as emotionally naïve as her spaniel, had slipped Prince Albert a love Mickey.
Reggie’s going to bust his buttons over this. He might even decide to let bygones be bygones and let me get back to my beloved Elizabethans.
It’s great material, after all. The articles will write themselves: “Queen Victoria’s Secret Journals: A Study in Domestic Tyranny”; “The Sevenfold Oratio Obscura: Queen Victoria’s Superspell.”
Only one more entry left in the Book of Spells, also locked sevenfold. It’s dated May 20, 1841, some six months after the birth of the princess royal. The covering text is a receipt for an ointment to soothe teething pains.
I have come to realise that I have made a TERRIBLE MISTAKE. Whoever or whatever Albert might have been without my intervention, I will never know. Dearly as I love him, I see him very seldom, for it is only when I am not present that he can be his own dear self. In my presence, he becomes the creature of Madame Rusalka’s spell, without a thought in his head but how he may please me. What a fool I was to think I would like a husband who always agreed with me. The reality is terrifying. And how can I trust a love that springs
I try to turn the page, but there’s nothing to turn. I’ve reached the end of the book.
“Shhhh,” the Archivist hisses.
I look around the Reading Room. She and I are alone. “Why are you bloody shushing me?” I demand. “I’m the only person bloody here.”
Her round face flushes. “I am here as well, and I am not accustomed to being sworn at.”
I get a grip on my temper. None of this is her fault. In fact, she’s been helpful, hunting up magic texts for me to consult. “Sorry. I’ve had a bit of a shock. The Book of Spells breaks off in the middle of a very interesting sentence. Is there another volume?”
“There was,” she says primly. “At least, we think there must have been. But either Princess Beatrice burned it with the rest of Victoria’s original journals, or it’s been misplaced somewhere. I’m sorry.”
I shut my teeth against all the things I’d like to say, but shouldn’t. After a long pause, I settle for, “Oh. Oh, dear.”
She looks amused. “Quite. I do, however, seem to remember a folder that no one’s sure where to file. It has some loose sheets in it, written in the queen’s hand. Would you be interested in seeing it?”
Hope springs, painful and shaky, in my heart. “I very well might.”
A long half hour later, she drops an acid-free file folder in front of me, hesitates, then goes back to her desk.
Hands shaking, I go through the papers carefully. The one that sears my fingers is, of course, on the bottom, by which time I’m so exhausted that I can hardly cast the aperient.
from Magic and not from the Heart? I cannot bear it. I cannot bear myself. I have deliberately enslaved Albert—I, who strove so passionately against Conroy’s attempts to enslave me. Truly, I am well punished. For in forcing my darling to love me, I have not only robbed him of himself, but myself of his unbiased advice. Reading his dear letters, written in the years of our separation, I am struck anew with his wisdom, his deep knowledge of history. All, all lost to me, through my own great folly!
I have resolved to make what reparation I may. First, I will bend all my energies to the discovery of a spell or potion to counteract Madame Rusalka’s cursed brew. I will give my darling responsibilities in which I have no part. I shall encourage him to voice his true opinions, and defer to him, as a good wife ought, subduing my own unhappy nature. It is my greatest fear that, left unchecked, I shall grow to be a Monster of self-regard, like Conroy—without compassion, without humility, without grace.
Should I succeed in breaking the chains with which I have imprisoned my darling, I may again find some measure of happiness in the company of one who will always be as an Angel to me.
As I read, my excitement gives way to nausea.
It’s like uncovering Dad’s letter all over again, only worse. Much worse. That only blew up three private lives. This is going to cause a complete re-evaluation of Victoria and her reign. These entries add a whole new dimension to Victoria’s character and throw every biography of her into instant obsolescence. She’s going to be called a slut, a hypocrite, the biggest fraud to dishonour the English throne since Charles II.
I have to tell Reggie. I can’t tell Reggie.
He’ll call a press conference, give Lady Antonia Fraser a run for her money. He’ll publish articles and books, go on TV. He’ll take poor Victoria’s dirty laundry and wave it around in public, pointing out the significance of each ugly stain.
And if I don’t tell him? Well, I won’t perish, though my academic career is likely to. Reggie will find some way of cutting my fellowship short that makes it impossible for me to get another one. On the other hand, I’ll never wake up in the middle of the night worrying that I was turning into Reggie. And I won’t feel as if I were nineteen again, watching my mother cry because I couldn’t keep my nose out of other people’s business. I might even feel as if, this time, I’ve done the decent thing.
Over the three weeks it has taken me to read, decode, and transcribe Victoria’s Book of Spells, I’ve grown fond of her. Not because I identify with her—good Lord, no. I’m not sentimental over animals, and Italian opera bores me almost as much as politics and paperwork. And not because I feel sorry for her, either. I haven’t lost sight of the fact that she was pig-headed, self-righteous, arrogant, and made a number of very bad decisions, the consequences of which England is still suffering. But she did try to be good, she really did. God knows she didn’t succeed, but at least she tried. And when she failed, she tried to fix it.
I bury my head in my hands. After a moment, I hear footsteps, feel a featherlight touch on my shoulder. “I say, are you all right?”
I give what I mean to be a sardonic laugh. It comes out as more of a sob. “No. I’m not all right.”
“Did you not find what you were looking for?”
I sit up and look at the Royal Archivist. Her face is a plump oval, her nose long and straight, her brows narrow and knitted with concern. “No, I found the missing page—and thank you, by the way, for remembering that file. It’s just—” I shrug helplessly.
She bites her lip. “Look here. It’s nearly five, and you look like you could use a drink. Come to the pub and I’ll tell you nasty stories about Reggie.”
“You know Reggie?”
“My brother knew him at Harrow. He calls him the Jolly Roger.”
She grins like a mischievous schoolgirl. “Come on then.”
Her name, oddly enough, is Victoria. The Honourable Victoria Pendennis. She’s a specialist in restorative magic and stasis spells. She’s also a thoroughly nice woman. I tell her everything.
When I’ve finished, she goes to get another round. When she comes back with my pint and her single malt, she says, “The situation is not as dire as you think it is, you know.”
“No. There’s no reason not to give Reggie the early entries. They’re new material and they’re genuinely useful.”
I shake my head. “Reggie’s never going to believe there’s nothing hidden under the last two entries. They’re too obviously placeholders.”
“Tell him you can’t make them out, then. He’ll get to feel superior, and you’ll have a chance to work on something more to your taste. You can always go back and publish them later, if you change your mind.”
“Why would I do that?”
Victoria smiles. It’s a slightly wistful smile, but that could just be the way her mouth is shaped—a true Cupid’s bow, with a full lower lip. “Because you’ll realise that sooner or later, somebody’s going to publish them. And it should be someone who really loves and understands her.”
I have no answer to that, so we finish our drinks in silence. As we leave the pub, I ask Victoria if she’s hungry. She says she is and asks if I like curry. I say I do.
It’s one of those April nights that feels more like late May. Even though it’s half past seven, the sky is still light. Victoria tucks her hand into my arm as we walk past a drift of daffodils blooming in an iron-fenced square. I unzip my leather jacket. Spring is really here.
About “Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells”
The Victorians have always fascinated me. There’s something about their combination of extreme formality and extreme recklessness, their generosity and greed, their curiosity and close-mindedness, their creativity and their conformity, and their pure, raw (often misguided) energy that I love. And there was no one, no one who embodied all the good and evil in Victorian culture, society, and politics like Victoria herself. In old age, she calcified into an almost Dickensian caricature, controlling, insensitive, and insular. But as a young girl, she was brave and strong and curious—and cruelly isolated. I wanted to write about that girl. And magic, of course, because I’ve been playing with the idea of a Britain ruled by a Council of Wizards ever since I wrote “The Parwat Ruby” in 1999. And scholarship, because I’ve always been conflicted about Victoria’s daughter Princess Beatrice’s decision to burn her mother’s diaries after she’d copied out the parts she judged fit for publication. Victoria had so little privacy in her life, it feels as if she ought to be able to retain the little she could carve out for herself. And yet, and yet.
Copyright © 2013 by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Excerpted from Queen Victoria's Book of Spells by Ellen Datlow Copyright © 2013 by Ellen Datlow. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Multiple award-winning editor ELLEN DATLOW has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for almost thirty years. She was fiction editor of OMNI magazine and SciFiction and has edited more than fifty anthologies. She lives in New York City.
TERRI WINDLING is a writer, artist, and book editor interested in myth, folklore, and fairy tales. She lives in a little village at the edge of Dartmoor in Devon, England.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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While most people will retain their power to put the book down when they're done reading, the stories in this book do cast a spell, one that snags imaginations and wishful thinking and pulls readers astray. Some of the stories are funny; others are tragic. Each story concludes with an "About" section in which the author talks about the inspiration behind the work. In addition to the title story, standout contributions include Elizabeth Wein's "For the Briar Rose," Kaaron Warren's "The Unwanted Women of Surrey," Dale Bailey's "Mr. Splitfood," Jane Yolen's "The Jewel in the Toad Queen's Crown," and Theodora Goss' "Estelle Saves the Village." Terri Windling's introduction, while not original to the book, provides an entertaining overview of the role of fantasy during the Victorian era. This book is a treasure house of delights and wonders.
Not all stories in here deal with magic. Some are simply stories set in the victorian era.