When I finished the first draft of The Lord of Stariel, my friends and family asked, not unnaturally, what it was about.
“Well,” I said. “It’s a fantasy novel.”
This was and remains 100% true. It is a fantasy novel. There is magic. Excellent – genre nailed down.
However, fantasy is a giant genre, so I tried to be a little more specific. The attempt to pin down my subgenre quickly became a depressing exercise in things my novel lacks. It isn’t medieval, grimdark, epic, urban, or steampunk. It’s historicalish but it’s set in its own world. It isn’t about sword fights or going on a quest. There are fae, but it isn’t a fairytale retelling.
For a while I called it ‘fantasy romance’ because those are two things it definitely contains – even though the romance isn’t exactly the main plotline.
Eventually I did find a weird niche subgenre label for it in addition to fantasy romance: gaslamp fantasy. This is a subgenre that (a) most people have never heard of and (b) is basically defined entirely by what it’s not. Hoorah!
Wikipedia defines gaslamp fantasy as:
‘a subgenre of both fantasy and historical fiction. Generally speaking, this particular realm of fantasy employs either a Victorian or Edwardian setting. The gaslamp fantasy genre is not to be confused with steampunk…’
The way I see it, gaslamp fantasy is the magical cousin of steampunk. Steampunk I think draws more from science fiction than fantasy, and has a big focus on machines, cogs, corsets, goggles, Victorian-aesthetic, and, er, steam. Gaslamp is less about the technology and more about fantastical elements in a late nineteenth/early twentieth century setting.
Today I found out that Amazon recently created a category for gaslamp fantasy books, which heartened me until I glanced through the books listed and found that most of them appeared to be steampunk. Oh well. It’s only a little baby subgenre at the moment – maybe it will grow into something big and popular! After all, a few decades ago most people had never heard of urban fantasy either.
Bring on the gaslamp fantasy revolution!