My book, Pantomime, is set in a pseudo-Victorian far future fantasy setting with a bit of science fiction thrown in. It’s not really steampunk, as there’s no steam, but there’s the same echoes of a repressed Victorian society with technology more advanced than our Victorians had.
I went mad for research for it, even though it was not in the world as we know it.
I read several books on the Victorian era, focusing mainly on London, for Imachara, the capital city where a lot of the book takes place, is likewise huge and cramped, with filth flowing in the streets in the poorer parts of town. I’ve read plenty of novels written in the Victorian era, and more than a few historical novels as well. I read article after article—The Cat’s Meat Shop by Lee Jackson is a notable fantastic resource. My book is also set in the circus, so I researched circuses from its beginnings in Astley’s Equestrian circuses to Dust Bowl America and beyond. I researched ladies’ clothes and limelight, etiquette and social occasions, the history of pantomime, the rookeries of London, and all manner of things. I’m a magpie for shiny facts, so it was always a pleasure.
Plenty of what I researched, I didn’t use. But through osmosis, I’m hoping it helped bring my world to life. My own warped vision of a Victorian-style era with no Queen Victoria, no England, no Africa or China or any other countries we know.
In some ways, it can be a double-edged sword. You don’t have to worry quite as much about anachronisms—no angry reader is going to email you to say carriages were called hackneys and not hansom cabs in the year your fantasy world was created—but you also don’t have that same shorthand for describing a place. There’s still quite a lot of worldbuilding that has to be snuck in various nooks and crannies of the book. Enough to set the tone of the world without drowning it in mundane details.
It’s wonderful and challenging, like any sort of writing. But I love it and am continuing to learn more about the era in the sequel—adding magicians, spiritualism, occultism, and Victorian science and medicine to the lists. For me, it’s perfect. I can research whatever my little heart desires, but then twist it for my own purposes.