Epeolatry Book Review: Dreadful Fancies by Christine Morgan


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Title: Dreadful Fancies
Author: Christine Moran
Publisher: Lycan Valley Press Publications
Genre: Steampunk
Release Date: 29th March, 2022

Synopsis: Welcome to the world of yesteryear’s world of tomorrow!

A world of inventions and intrigues, ingenious science and eldritch sorcery, mechanical marvels and magical mischief, daring exploration and dangerous adventure. A world powered by steam and teslic coils and etheric energies, where paranormalists ply their trade alongside constables and scholars and daffy dilettantes.

From the grim and gritty city to the bustling urban metrop … from the hardscrabble life in the factories to the high society of lavish country estates … from the airscrew-propelled platform of a flying industrial complex to the suboceanic travels of a nautilus expedition …

Welcome to a darkly delightful tour of Dreadful Fancies.

Confession; I’ve never read steampunk until now. Sure, I have watched it on TV, played it on a video game and even seen many dressed up in this fashion style, but actually read it—never! I didn’t know what to expect from this eleven-story collection, but I’m glad to have taken the plunge into Morgan’s Dreadful Fancies.

Evident from the first story ‘The Coppergate Killings’, my lack of enthusiasm for steampunk would be a hurdle. With an emphasis on technological advancements in a Victorian city, this opening story is from a young Toby’s perspective—he is selected out of the gearhouse to a new life that seems too good to be true. This introductory tale suits the collection as it introduces the famous paranormalists Chantal Noir and Constable Pearce; these two characters are mentioned again in later pieces. Though this story failed to keep my interest, it piqued with its horror trope of villainary. But I was determined to read the rest. I’m glad I persisted, and I didn’t have to wait long. 

‘The Garretton Ghoul’ is a grotesque crime story. Men are vanishing from the Garretton neighbourhood. Most of this society includes poor lodgers trying to earn money through creative means such as poetry and artistry. The narrative shifts perspective a few times from the artist Jack Blint to his love interest Eliza Whitte. This adds further tension in which I revel. Morgan cleverly keeps the culprit hidden but leaves breadcrumbs. I was suspicious of a couple of characters and when the big reveal occurred, it came along with a very interesting twist. Fans of Poe would love this.

‘Unfathomable’ is the only story that descends into the dark depths of the ocean. Something has fallen from the sky. It wrecks a nearby ship and causes explorers, scientists, and the wealthy to take an adventure and hunt it down. With Chantal Noir and Constable Pearce aboard, the Thetis vessel plunges into depths where the ocean’s beauty is admired, and a threatening mystery lay waiting. ‘Unfathomable’ perfectly blends steampunk and horror; the suspense lurks softly, and then gradually increases at a steady pace. Morgan adds humour at the right moment, and the device shows realistic character reactions.  

The rest of the collection focuses on steampunk with less horror than the previous stories. ‘Brassworth’, ‘The Etheric Dynamo’, and ‘The Modern Woman’ emphasize advancements and lesbian acceptance. There are robots, flying cities, and technology that can bring someone from the past back to life. ‘Rosie Red-Jacket’ and ‘Of the Utmost Discretion’ are focused on a steampunk society’s expectations, and what is acceptable for gender and job role. Morgan also adds enjoyable fantasy twists.

‘No one of Consequence’ and ‘The Terrible Secret of Tetley Hall’ brings horror back into focus with dead bodies and ghosts. However, the lack of heart-pounding tension creates a pleasant atmosphere. Lastly, ‘Cinder’s Twelve’, a Cinderella fairy tale spin off, introduces readers to a heroine mastermind, a thief with no desire to marry a prince. It made me chuckle and I would recommend it as a modern updated version to read to children or teenagers. 

It can’t be easy to write about the functions of an imaginary device, to include scientific terminology while simplifying it for readers to understand, or to explain imaginary substances that power devices while at the same time placing the device in a historical setting. However, Morgan has made the work look easy. 

Dreadful Fancies surprised me. The collection was not just a mixture of steampunk and horror. Morgan added feminism and fantasy elements to many of her tales. ‘The Garretton Ghoul’ and ‘Unfathomable’ were my favourites, but Morgan’s diverse sub-genre included a selection for everyone. 

As for steampunk, I’m still not a fan. It’s probably going to remain my marmite flavour. But if you do enjoy the genre, this compilation is worth a read!


Available from Amazon.

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