Is Historical Fiction Also Fantasy? The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

Imagine a Manhattan with low slung wooden buildings, little to no police force, and a rural farming community and a wild forrest north of 23rd street…. Is this an alternate universe? No, it’s New York circa 1845. I believe my love of historical fiction is a direct result of my love of fantasy/sci-fi because it is just another genre that transports you to another world in another time, and your imagination is required to recreate scenes that don’t exist in our current waking world. Sometimes, the only difference between a historical novel and a fantasy novel is that the setting in the historical novel was real once (although I think some would argue that fantasy settings are just as real to the reader, they just exist in the mind’s eye).

I had the pleasure of meeting author Lyndsay Faye at a publishing event at NYU about a month ago. She is witty, charming, cute, sincere, and endearingly humble about her literary success. Her publisher, Amy Einhorn, of Amy Einhorn Books, an imprint of Putnam at Penguin Book Group (USA), accompanied her to this event as they bantered back and forth about Lyndsay’s latest book, The Gods of Gotham. I think what piqued my interest in this book the most was the interesting incorporation of period street slang, called Flash, that eventually helped shape some of the modern slang we used today. Anyone interested in the history of the English language would find this both delightful and informative. Furthermore, this story is about the beginning of the NYPD, the copper stars, as they were known (which is where we get the word “cop”, fyi) and what I feel is also the story of the first real NYPD detective, Timothy Wilde.

The story begins at a very interesting confluence of events that will change the political, economic, and physical landscape of New York City forever. First, there’s a fire that burns down a large section of lower Manhattan. Second, Irish immigrants are starting to the flood the city because of the Irish potato famine. Third, an official police force is formed to govern the streets of Manhattan, which stirs up political animosity among those who are staunchly anti-government. Timothy Wilde is a reluctant former bartender whose fate is now reluctantly and irrevocably caught up amidst these events. His problem, though, is that he has become too good at being a copper star, a job he loathes yet must do thanks to circumstance.

The action begins on page one of this book, and we are immediately deeply interested in the fates of the characters as we meet them in the first chapter. The story is being told from Timothy’s point of view, and we meet his very charismatic and political older brother, Valentine, the love interest, Mercy Underhill, and the ten year old “kinchin“, Bird Daly, who we love despite her need to lie about everything. Not only is this novel full of the atmosphere of the time period, but there’s a serial killer on the loose, and it’s up to Timothy Wilde to find him and catch him before more young Irish blood is spilt.

I haven’t finished this novel yet, but I am engrossed. It takes every effort for me to not just spend the entire day languishing in bed reading this book until I know everyone is safe and the murderer is caught. There is definitely an immediacy to how this story unfolds. I feel like I am really there, strolling down the dirty streets of 1845 Manhattan alongside my favorite copper star. I have truly been transported to another world.

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2 thoughts on “Is Historical Fiction Also Fantasy? The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

  1. I got an autographed copy at the B&N in Union Square. I’d like to go to a reading/signing of hers whenever that’s available. Her first book is about Dr. Watson and Jack the Ripper, so I think I might get that one next.

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