Kage Baker originally intended the Ladies of Nell Gwynne’s to be an amusing walk on – a reward for the growing skills of novice operatives of the Gentlemen’s Speculative Society, and a foil for those young fellows’ outre talents. However, being Kage, she got carried away by the intrinsic personalities among the Ladies themselves, and decided they needed more explication. They won’t be silenced, she told me, they have something to say: and the result was The Women of Nell Gwynne’s. It won her the Nebula last year.
In the last months of her life, Kage was working on a sequel to that story. She talked it out with me in detail, as was her long-standing habit; she left copious notes, as well. And she extracted from me a solemn promise to finish the story. In fact, she left me a frightening number of stories to complete – but the task was to begin with the sequel to Nell Gwynne. Kage, being still at the silly names stage of the writing when she was compelled to lay it aside, called it Who We Did On Our Summer Holiday.
In it, the Ladies of that upscale and technologica-inclined brothel close their doors in order to go on their annual month of summer holidays. Proprietress Mrs. Corvey being fond of the seaside, the Ladies shift lodgings to a respectable family boarding house in Torquay : known as the English Riveria for its mild climate, warm seas and tourist amenities. The Ladies are more than ready for a happy month of sea-bathing, long walks, dancing, shopping, needlework and a little light archeology.
While there, however, they make the acquaintance of a most peculiar expatriate American, Mr. Treadway Pickett. He develops an importunate infatuation with Lady Beatrice; she is inclined to gently repulse him (the Ladies are enjoying their month of celibacy) but for the odd fact that he seems somehow connected to sudden reports of sea monsters in the area. These are chalked up to fancy and strong drink, except for some chance sightings of something odd from the sea cliffs by some of the Ladies, as well as a clear view of something very strange indeed by Mrs. Corvey’s customized ocular implants.
The Ladies not being prepared for work – they are on holiday, after all – Mrs. Corvey passes on the oddities to the Gentlemen’s Society. However, it transpires that the Red King’s Club is empty of most operatives, what with summer holidays, training exercises and the political foment of 1848 being helped along on the continent by the GSS – the Ladies are advised to please employ their spare time to observe, report and stand ready to take action regarding Mr. Pickett if needed.
Mrs. Corvey must coordinate all the clandestine activities, promote a discreet affaire de coeur between Lady Beatrice and Mr. Picket, and find a new cook (the old one has gotten religion and quit). Miss Rendlesham is attacked by gulls and butlers. Mrs. Otley finds an unknown Prediluvian skull, the Devere sisters are charming, and Herbertina makes the acquaintance of a dandy horse and a fox terrier.
There are steam cannons, floating gun platforms and hermaphrodite brigs. There are Spotted Dick and water ices. There are card palaces and castles in the clouds and a brief digression on the origin of carbon fibres. There is indeed a plot afoot, and the Ladies must solve it themselves since the GSS will arrive too late to do anything of note …
And I must tell, you Dear Readers, that I love all the titles you’ve suggested so far, and they are all going on the Suggestions List!