I am very pleased to welcome Elizabeth Watasin to SteamU today. Author of The Dark Victorian series and the Elle Black Penny Dreads, SteamU Professor Watasin paints a vivid picture of an alternative 1880. Her stories are richly detailed, sure to please steampunk connoisseurs and book addicts (often the same group) alike! In short excerpt provided below, we get a taste of her writing. It is an intriguing, delicious feast for the senses. Read on, students, read on!
Today’s Lecture by SteamU Professor: Elizabeth Watasin
Author of: The Dark Victorian series and the Elle Black Penny Dreads
Further Discourses Available:
Author Elizabeth Watasin
About the Author:Elizabeth Watasin is the acclaimed author of the Gothic steampunk series The Dark Victorian, The Elle Black Penny Dreads, and the creator/artist of the indie comics series Charm School, which was nominated for a Gaylactic Spectrum Award. A twenty year veteran of animation and comics, her credits include thirteen feature films, such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and The Princess and the Frog, and writing for Disney Adventures magazine. She lives in Los Angeles with her black cat named Draw, busy bringing readers uncanny heroines in shilling shockers, epic fantasy adventures, and paranormal detective tales.
Walk the World of The Dark Victorian; Getting to know the world of Artifice, agent of the Secret Commission
Excerpt from Dark Victorian: Bones
by Elizabeth Watasin
THE year is 1880, and in a mechanical and supernatural London, criminals are resurrected without memories in order to fight evil. One such newly risen agent of HRH’s Secret Commission is Artifice, an artificial ghost, six-foot tall strongwoman, and Quaker. Art is only six days living when she’s assigned her second case, pursuing a black arts surgeon ripping out the bones of the poor. Yet even as she works with her senior partner, Jim Dastard, the animated skull, Art relearns life in the squalid depths and singular wonders of her city.
Here, in this excerpt from Dark Victorian: Bones, Art visits the Royal Aquarium Exposition Palace and Pleasure Gardens for the first time, where a certain notorious journalist and the object of Art’s affections, Lady Helia Skycourt, resides.
As she had at Billingsgate, Art faced a massive space inside the Royal Aquarium, stretched high and wide and topped by arching glass and iron. The sounds of milling people echoed upon the columns and walls, and Art perceived an underlining hum of excitement. Above, palm trees stretched three stories to the iron arches. Art saw dust-speckled sunbeams shine down from a great glass dome in the distance. Dirigibles hung in the serene illumination.
She stepped farther into the arcade proper and strolled to where the great, blue tanks stood. As she did so, people who noticed her hurried out of her way.
The thick glass of the tanks stretched sixteen feet high. At their bases were brass railings against which visitors leaned. A large plaque explained the water replenishing and circulation system. To the arcade’s left, the great tanks had floating balls, hoops, and swings suspended above the water. Here, performers took turns diving and executing aquatic tricks. Spectators crowded the glass and watched every twist and turn of the scantily clad swimmers. The sole female diver swam close to the glass, her dark hair waving, and smiled for the crowd.
“Once more! Once more!” a group of women cried, waving their handkerchiefs to a tall, well-muscled male diver standing upon a swing. He jumped and smoothly dived in, to their vocal appreciation. To Art, the women’s accents sounded American, and she smiled at their brazen manner as they tittered to each other.
Provocative performers did not hold Art’s interest long. She turned to look at the tanks to the right, where fronds of sea fauna waved as colourful fish swam and darted. Many were very small, but Art saw giant sturgeon glide slowly by, longer than the length of her arms. Their tiny eyes stared from the sides of their heads, and she looked back with longing.
Art nearly bumped into young sailors who were consulting their small guidebooks while studying a tank. The aquarium glass had a notice fixed to it, declaring that the huge tank held a giant clam, lobster, and crab, though Art could not perceive of any such animals hiding within the sand and sea grass. Girls in straw hats quickly passed her carrying a pictorial foldout map. She had the sudden desire to purchase a souvenir guide herself, for she felt there was far more that she could learn and discover than by merely viewing exhibits and reading plaques.
Such visitors were so absorbed in where they wanted to go and what they wanted to see, that Art as a supernatural presence hardly registered to their awarenesses. But any who might turn after watching the acrobatic divers or the darting fish stared in either surprise or terror at her. Some hurried away, urging their spouses, friends, or children to follow. Their viewing spaces before the glass filled again with spectators who paid no heed. She saw schoolchildren approach and moved to walk to the left side, causing more people to notice her and press back in alarm.
Charity school girls, aged six to ten, in their blue dresses, pinafores, and bonnets, walked hand in hand in two rows. Their teacher came to an abrupt stop and paled at the sight of Art.
“Children, hold your buttons!” the teacher said. “Do so, now!”
When the girls saw their teacher clutch one of the buttons of her dress’s chest front, they did the same, reaching inside their pinafores. Art looked at their large eyes as they stared up at her and her heart ached. To hold a button meant they were protecting themselves from an omen of death.
“Be not afraid,” she said to them gently. “Thee will grow.” She said this to each child she passed. She did not look back so as not to alarm them further.
As she approached the end of the row of tanks, she saw country folk in their best, holiday dress. They had brought their picnic baskets, and finding ledges and benches to rest upon, sat with their paper- wrapped meat-and-mustard sandwiches and watched the crowd. When spying Art, they chose not to flee, but stared wide-eyed with food in their mouths. Retreating at the sight of her would mean having to repack all their utensils and provisions. Therefore, they sat still and in amazement, even as she drew near and strolled on.
She entered sunlight and the great dome proper. Replica airships, balloons, and other flying contraptions from various British, German, and American manufacturers hung suspended high above her head. Art looked up at the impressively large dirigibles and smiled in wonder.
In the area of the pavilions, amid presenters and salesmen ready to discuss air flight, she saw the other exotic characters English folk gaped at. Tall Africans in ornate kaftans strolled, pointing and loudly discussing the various models above. Bearded Indian men in turbans and silk walked solemnly with hands clasped behind their backs. Art saw Asian men in dusty coats, their unruly hair long and tied back, seated at a café patio table. One dozed against his folded arms.
Building façades lined the sides of the exhibition space and housed cafés for coffee and tea. Other storefronts held souvenirs, imported sundries, and newsagents who carried papers in different languages. Art saw that some façades were fanciful representations of the great Empires, including those of Germany, Russia, and Japan. Beside the cafés, leisure areas were hidden behind planters and small palms. There, loungers sat in wicker chairs around gently cascading fountains and smoked, read, or played chess.
She walked farther. She came upon a French restaurant with an ironworks entrance of twisting vines, berries, and female figures. The patio held mosaic-topped tables, delicate, wrought-iron chairs, and an oxygenated glass tank, bubbling and filled with living crawfish. A server fished out a few on to a plate and hurried inside. Art admired the allegorical females painted on the restaurant’s colourful signboard. Amid the aromas of cream-rich haute cuisine and poured wine, diners amicably chatted.
But it was a spicier scent, enticingly aromatic and heavy with fresh herbs that caught her attention. Somehow she knew what the fragrance was, mixed with the scents of steamed rice, mango, coconut milk, and chicken; it was Indian curry. Art looked towards the crowded patio of a café at the other end of the pavilions area. The long café façade was ivory-white with gracefully ornate Indo-Saracenic arches and slim columns. Airship models with the crest of ‘Skycourt’ floated high above them. Art strolled towards the Blue Vanda.
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