The Regency era has come to fantasyland, sweeping demurely across the genre landscape. It did not explode the way urban fantasy did, nor slowly build up speed like the steampunk locomotive. Rather, it gently but firmly elbowed its way through the subgenre crowd with a, “Pardon me, if you please,” its steady rise reflecting the gentile manners of the era it represents. With Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Naomi Novick’s Temeraire books paving the way, the Regency era came into the fantasy scene, and it is here to stay.
Publishing is a fast-paced world full of fads and trends, but I don’t think this is one of them. Regency fantasy shows all the signs of lasting strength, perhaps even poised to fill the void left by Medieval fantasy’s decline as the genre’s next defining trait. Like the medieval era, the Regency is far enough in the past that it inspires a sense of wonder, and has all the grandeur and elegance of the Middle Ages’ castles and silk-clad queens. For thirty years, Medieval fantasy dominated the genre, and it left a wonderful legacy which will always be a part of the fantasy tradition. Though it is past its golden age, Medieval fantasy will endure. And now, I look ahead to the future of Regency fantasy and see a similar potential. Will Regency fantasy ever have the appeal that Medieval fantasy did? Will it stamp itself onto genre history and change fantasy forever? I think it’s possible, at least.
Certainly the Regency era left a lasting impact on the romance genre. It invoked a Regency revival, spurring new interest in Jane Austen, which in turn inspired Jane Austen mysteries and mainstream books. At the same time as all of this was taking place, fantasy was on the rise. More and more, fantasy ceases to be seen as the stuff nerds read between D&D campaigns and becomes recognized as a genre with much to offer. Readership within fantasy has grown…and many romance and mystery fans have been swept along with the tide—fans who just can’t seem to get their fill of Regency books.
Even non-fantasy readers have begun to associate the Regency era with speculative fiction, thanks to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which has been optioned for film. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell garnered attention and readers who traditionally shy away from fantasy books. Though the public’s awareness of the Regency era within fantasy is still quite limited, it is sure to grow as more of these novels hit bookstore shelves.
At this early stage, it would be absurd to proclaim Regency fantasy as the certain coming king of the genre. It’s far too early to make such a claim about any of the many powerful subgenres in fantasy today. But I don’t think it’s too early to predict that Regency fantasy is a lasting trend, a rising tide, if you will. A number of novels have followed the pioneers of Regency fantasy, many of them series which will take several years to play out. No, I believe Regency fantasy is far from dying out. Rather, the number of frock-coated magicians is steadily on the rise.