The greatest thing about anthologies is that there is bound to be something you will enjoy inside. There is a lot to be admired in The Ladies of Trade Town. Its stories range from high fantasy to hard core science fiction and, most importantly, Steampunk.
Every anthology has some sort of unifying theme, The Ladies of Trade Town is no exception. How shall I put this delicately? A large part of each story involves personages for hire (they are not all painted ladies, if you catch my meaning). Usually they are the protagonists. Ladies of Trade Town includes everything from courtesans to madams to common hookers and in one case a werewolf who becomes an accidental pimp.
Yet for an anthology where the pleasures of the flesh are the main form of income for most of the characters, there is surprisingly little indelicacy, and none of it explicit. The anthology is PG-13, not R rated. I would not hand it to a junior high child, but it is entirely appropriate for a teenager. It is deliciously steamy, both in the torrid love affair sense and in the Steampunk sense.
The very first story in this anthology could not be more Steampunk. Gears and steam show up on the first page and there is an escape by airship later on. Indeed, this is the story that warrants the inclusion of this review in this publication.
It is called “The Ballad of Eskimo Nell Revisited Or John Henry Was A Piston Driving Man.” In Mr. Jim Reader’s tale, both these individuals are highly sought after for, er, pleasures unspoken in polite company, yet horrible accidents have occurred to their most sensitive body parts. Through the wonders of science, their business tools have been replaced with admirable steam-powered equivalents that are superior to their biological counterparts in the performance of their jobs. There is only one problem. Neither can feel anything that occurs with these replacement parts. Nell embarks on a quest to find someone who can remedy this. John Henry, here driving something that is not exactly steel and swinging something that is not exactly a hammer, steps up to the challenge.
“Silk And Steam,” by Brandie Tarvin, is an entirely different sort of story. A lady of the evening who is not quite human adopts a small German town where they keep to the old ways, honoring ancient spirits as tanks and war machines clank through the hills around them. It is a bittersweet tale that involves a good thing that cannot last and copious amounts of bloodshed. It describes how the red lantern that signifies harlotry came to be. I loved it just as much as the first story, and possibly more.
I should also like to point out that a third delightful story has one tiny bit of Steampunk-esque content. “A Touch of Ginger,” by Melanie Fletcher, features Wyatt Earp’s wife and time travel. I shan’t spoil it further.
I give this anthology four gears out of five. Most of the stories are five gears material, but a couple of them left me unmoved. The price of admission is worth it, just for the first story alone.
Lee Martindale puts together a fine anthology. I believe this behavior should be encouraged. I hope to see a second volume in the future. Indeed, I may simply have to borrow my friend’s temporal manipulation device so that I may obtain more Ladies of Trade Town.
Your Correspondent from the Bookstore,
Penny J. Merriweather