What is Gaslamp fantasy?

The nature of genres is never concrete; developments take place almost every day, making its entire concept fluid and dynamic. One of the lesser-known genres that embrace this essence in the truest sense is Gaslamp fantasy. This genre is technically a sub-genre of Steampunk Fantasy, which, in turn, belongs to the parent genre of science fiction. 

In simple words, gaslamp fantasy brings together historical fiction and fantasy. Thus, the books in this genre have a Victorian or Edwardian setting, gothic elements, and a fantastical plot. As you can imagine, there will be ballrooms, polite manners and witty conversations, but also supernatural creatures, dark magic, and a paranormal romance. It is also known as gaslight fantasy or romance – but doesn’t have an ounce of manipulation in it.

The genre has now evolved to include much more than just the England of the 19th century. Now, you can see gaslamp fantasy novels set in the America of the 1800s or alternate realities of actual places!


Why is it called Gaslamp Fantasy?

The term does look comical and certainly something not many may know. But there’s a story behind its origin, just as unique as the genre. It was back in the early 2000s that Kaja Foglio, along with Phil Foglio, created the webcomic Girl Genius. She used the term gaslamp fantasy to describe her award-winning comic. She did it as a way to show its fantastical roots and divert the readers away from thinking it comes under the steampunk subgenre.

While the term came into existence in the early 2000s, it has been around way before that. A notable mention is the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997), which talked about something called Gaslight Romance. The definition had the same essence, even though the term wasn’t coined back then.


What sets Gaslamp Fantasy apart from Steampunk?

If you notice, Foglio had to develop a whole different term to separate her novel from the Steampunk genre. It indicates that both these genres are so closely related that one might mistake one for the other.

There are certain subtle criteria you can use to separate these, some of which are:

  • Steampunk displays a historical setting with steam-powered machinery. While gaslamp fantasy has a similar setting, the author shifts the focus to the blend of society and fantasy.
  • Gaslamp fantasy may have technology in the narrative, but it is not emphasized. As opposed to this, steampunk relies heavily on steam-powered technology, making it an essential part of world-building.
  • If science and technology form steampunk’s base, then magic and fantasy take the front seat with gaslamp fantasy.
  • When it comes to world-building, gaslamp fantasy emphasizes including magical elements in history. But with steampunk, the industrialization and its impact on society is seen at the forefront.

With that being said, gaslamp fantasy can have steam-powered machinery, while steampunk can have fantasy elements. It really comes down to how the plot develops!


Why is Gaslamp Fantasy so interesting?

Gaslamp fantasy is definitely an interesting genre, but why? Well, there are a few reasons! One of the most fascinating things about this genre is the historical setting that adds its vintage charm to the plot. As the characters are in the past, the stories are filled with the elegant society of the past, mainly Victorian and Edwardian eras. For example, in Marissa Doyle’s Courtship and Curses, you will find yourself getting lost in the Regency era. The book aptly reflects the refined fashion of the period, along with political turmoil and the signature architecture.

Pair this feature with the magic and mystery that comes with the genre, and you have got yourself an exciting treat. The juxtaposition of history with sorcery makes up for a real unique atmosphere, underlined by the eerie ambience, supernatural figures, and magical artifacts. This also includes parallel worlds, ancient secrets, and superpowers!

Gaslamp fantasy also offers a profound social commentary on the era it is set in. It can cover gender or class discrimination as well as thoughts on industrialization. Of course, it depends from author to author whether to add this point or not. But you will often see such commentary – mostly allegorical – in more than half of the gaslamp romance novels.

What brings every element together here is the immersive writing style that this sub-genre demands. The author needs to maintain the formal language of the historical setting without compromising their own unique style. And the result is? An eloquent narrative that touches your heart!


4 Gaslamp fantasy books released in 2023

  • Court of Tricksters – S.L. Prater

Published on: January 20, 2023.

  1. L. Prater’s Court of Tricksters takes the readers into the scheming world of fae! The Duke of Night approaches marriage as a matter of politics instead of something related to heart. He finds his bond mate in the forest witch Rain, who’s been living outside society too long. Naturally, she rejects his offer, leading Night to do something drastic – kidnapping Rain to make her bond with him.

The world-building may seem a bit basic, even underdeveloped, but that is because this is only the first part of the series! But whatever depiction is done, it is absolutely fantastic! There are different courts – Night belongs to the Lunar Court – an impending war, fae politics, and people with superpowers. And, of course, the true mate bond that defies everything!

And that brings us to the romance of Night and Rain. While there is kidnapping involved, it is more on the playful side. It’s because Rain is a mature, potent, many-centuries-old warrior, in front of whom Night doesn’t stand a chance. Theirs is a shy, slow burn romance, made all the more appealing by Prater’s uniquely immersive writing style.

  • Heir of Uncertain Magic – Charlie N. Holmberg

Published on: April 11, 2023.

If you are a fan of magic, romance, and enchanted houses, Heir of Uncertain Magic is the one for you! Charlie N. Holmberg brings in the second instalment of her Whimbrel House series, where you can peek into the lives of your favourite characters again. The whimbrel house has finally calmed down, thanks to Hulda’s housekeeping. But there are other problems haunting Merritt, Hulda and their family-like group – issues that could change the trajectory of their lives.

The book switches from early-19th century England to Boston of the mid-1800s, bringing in all the charm the old world brings. And that means communication stones (instead of cell phones), vintage clothes, and the pish-posh societal norms. Magic is the main focus, but it has a unique twist to it. It is woven deep into the fabric of society and flows in people genetically. The painted picture of magic is so believable it almost seems possible, like an everyday thing.

There’s mystery, romance, adventure, and a slew of diverse, flawed and lovable characters, especially Merritt’s great-great uncle turned dog, Owein. But the whimbrel house takes the cake; its quirky presence is evident throughout the story!

  • Blood Over Bright Haven – M.L. Wang

Published on: July 25, 2023.

  1. L. Wang’s Blood Over Bright Haven is marketed as a dark academia fantasy. But if you dive into the story, you will find the essence of gaslamp fantasy all over! It follows the story of Sciona, an orphan who has been studying magic her whole life and wants to be a highmage.

However, even after managing to become a highmage, her colleagues make her life a living hell. (Just because she is a woman). And one of them is assigning a janitor as her lab assistant. And that brings the readers to Thomil, the janitor once a nomadic hunter. Together in the lab, they uncover something that could change everything… or kill them.

The story unfolds in the fictional place of Tiran, the place of industrial utopia on earth. It is ringed by a magical barrier that keeps threats away from the citizens. Inside this bubble, industrialization booms through magic’s help, i.e. technology and fantasy co-existing! In fact, magic is Tiran’s science, where you are introduced to formulas, calculations, and theories. More importantly, though, the setting in itself is reminiscent of history, featuring corsets, petticoats, sexism, racism, and morality.

  • With These Last Breaths – Vanessa Rasanen

Published on: August 15, 2023.

Ranking in Amazon’s top 50 best sellers in gaslamp fantasy, With These Last Breaths is Vanessa Rasanen’s pirate romance! It is the third instalment in the Aisling Sea series, where readers’ beloved Declan is finally rescued from his captor. There’s a war going on, where Declan and Aoife have to face and defeat the latter’s mother. The odds don’t look good, but they manage to pull through, which in turn gives way to the three couples being united.

There are three couples in the series – resulting in six POVs – Declan and Aoife, Tommy and Maura, and Cait and Adler. While Declan and Aoife are the main couple, you will see romance and spicy scenes between the three couples. Triple the fun, one can say!

While it is certainly not set in the Victorian or Edwardian eras, the novel gives a historical feel through its world. And it – the island of Cregah and the Aisling Sea – is as descriptive as it is vivid. It features a whole society (with many things swept under the rug), its mysterious history, fantastical figures, and a magical dagger with seamless power. The characters’ adventures – an essential element of the sub-genre – finally come to an end here, letting the readers enjoy the fuzzy romance!


Final Words

The genre of Gaslamp fantasy is an evolving one, with new developments happening once in a while. As a result, the titles of this sub-genre are a blend of many genres, borrowing different elements from them. But the presence of mysterious atmosphere, supernatural elements, and unique characters will always be a staple. So, if you do decide to give Gaslight Fantasy a chance, you won’t be disappointed!