The Women of Nell Gwynne’s

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsKage Baker The Women of Nell Gwynne'sThe Women of Nell Gwynne’s by Kage Baker

Crack open the pages of The Women of Nell Gwynne’s and you will find action, mystery, and beautiful women. This novella by Kage Baker is everything a SF/F fan wishes the works of Charles Dickens had been.

The Women of Nell Gwynne’s is about an elite brothel in Victorian London. Though these ladies of the night provide pleasure to the notables of the city, that is not the primary reason for their existence; They serve as a front and spy-center for a certain Gentlemen’s Speculative Society, an entity which has appeared in other Baker works. Lady Beatrice, newly arrived for work at Nell Gwynne’s, is promptly swept up into an adventure requiring all the skills she can muster. The ladies must find a man that the Gentlemen’s Speculative Society has lost and learn what secrets his former employer, Lord Arthur Rawdon, is hiding.

This novella is thoroughly entertaining. Baker has skillfully captured the tone and feel of a Victorian novel, reading like an Austen or Dickens without an excess of flowery language or philosophical meanderings. The grammatical structure and dialogue, along with the setting, combine to make one feel as if he or she were in the very room with the protagonists. Baker has used gadgetry and technology to turn this period piece into a science fiction novel. It draws comparisons to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews but rather than superhero literary characters, the protagonists are ordinary people with a desire to shape and influence world events.

Beatrice is interesting, and we get a detailed glimpse of her history as a British army officer’s daughter, and her subsequent kidnap into the wilds of Afghanistan. Baker takes some opportunity here to imply that the imperial ambitions of the British in the Victorian period are similar to those of present America, but these are easily glossed over, more of “oh look: an interesting similarity” than a “here is what you should think about this.”

Though Baker is writing a story about whores, she differentiates profession from character. These women are strong and intelligent, people you would want to know as friends. They are not wholly defined by what they do for a living — they are more than that. But still, this novel is for adults only because these women are frank about what they do.

The Women of Nell Gwynne’s reads quickly and easily, flowing smoothly from one chapter to the next. The mystery aspect of the story reminds me of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, though with a SF twist. The fact that the tale is about female protagonists in a man-centered world allows little bits of humor:

Life for the ladies of Nell Gwynne’s was, placed in the proper historical, societal and economic context, quite tolerably nice.

I recommend The Women of Nell Gwynne’s for fans of Kage Baker, and for anyone who likes stories of Victorian London. Readers of Jo Walton or James Blaylock will find The Women of Nell Gwynne’s to their liking, as will those classicists who read H.G. Wells religiously. Mystery fans will find much to enjoy here, as well. As for me, on this my first reading of a Baker work, I have become a fan and will eagerly seek out more of her work in the near future.


FanLit thanks John Ottinger III from Grasping for the Wind for contributing this guest review.

The Company — (1997-2013) Black Projects, White Knights and Gods and Pawns are story collections. Rude Mechanicals and The Women of Nell Gwynne’s are novellas. Publisher: The first novel of Kage Baker’s critically acclaimed, much-loved series, ‘The Company’, introduces us to a world where the future of commerce is the past. In the twenty-fourth century, the Company preserves works of art and extinct forms of life (for profit of course). It recruits orphans from the past, renders them all but immortal, and trains them to serve the Company, Dr. Zeus. One of these is Mendoza, the botanist. She is sent to Elizabethan England to collect samples from the garden of Sir Walter Iden. But while there, she meets Nicholas Harpole, with whom she falls in love. And that love sounds great bells of change that will echo down the centuries, and through the succeeding novels of The Company. Breathtakingly detailed and written with great aplomb, In the Garden of Iden is a contemporary classic of the science-fiction genre.

SFF book reviews Kage Baker The Company 1. In the Garden of Iden 2. Sky Coyote 3. Mendoza in Hollywood aka At the Edge of the West 4. The Graveyard Game 5. The Life of the World to Come 6. The Children of the CompanySFF book reviews Kage Baker The Company 1. In the Garden of Iden 2. Sky Coyote 3. Mendoza in Hollywood aka At the Edge of the West 4. The Graveyard Game 5. The Life of the World to Come 6. The Children of the CompanySFF book reviews Kage Baker The Company 1. In the Garden of Iden 2. Sky Coyote 3. Mendoza in Hollywood aka At the Edge of the West 4. The Graveyard Game 5. The Life of the World to Come 6. The Children of the CompanySFF book reviews Kage Baker The Company 1. In the Garden of Iden 2. Sky Coyote 3. Mendoza in Hollywood aka At the Edge of the West 4. The Graveyard Game 5. The Life of the World to Come 6. The Children of the CompanySFF book reviews Kage Baker The Company 1. In the Garden of Iden 2. Sky Coyote 3. Mendoza in Hollywood aka At the Edge of the West 4. The Graveyard Game 5. The Life of the World to Come 6. The Children of the CompanySFF book reviews Kage Baker The Company 6. The Children of the Company 7. The Machine's Child 8. The Sons of Heaven 9. Not Less Than Gods SFF book reviews Kage Baker The Company 6. The Children of the Company 7. The Machine's Child 8. The Sons of Heaven 9. Not Less Than Gods SFF book reviews Kage Baker The Company 6. The Children of the Company 7. The Machine's Child 8. The Sons of Heaven 9. Not Less Than Gods Kage Baker Not Less Than Gods fantasy book reviewsSFF book reviews Kage Baker The Company The Empress of Mars, Gods and Pawns, Rude MechanicalsSFF book reviews Kage Baker The Company The Empress of Mars, Gods and Pawns, Rude MechanicalsSFF book reviews Kage Baker The Company Black Projects, White Knights: The Company Dossiers SFF book reviews Kage Baker The Company The Empress of Mars, Gods and Pawns, Rude MechanicalsKage Baker In the Company of ThievesThe Women of Nell Gwynne'sSFF book reviews Kage Baker The Company The Empress of Mars, Gods and Pawns, Rude Mechanicalsfantasy and science fiction book reviews

Nell Gwynne’s Scarlet Spy contains the novella The Women of Nell Gwynne and the story “The Bohemian Astrobleme.”  (So you don’t need to buy The Women of Nell Gwynne).


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JOHN OTTINGER III, a guest contributor to FanLit, runs the Science Fiction / Fantasy blog Grasping for the Wind. His reviews, interviews, and articles have appeared in Publisher’s Weekly, The Fix, Sacramento Book Review, Flashing Swords, Stephen Hunt’s SFCrowsnest, Thaumatrope, and at Tor.com.

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