Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Novella Project: That We Maye with Free Heartes Accomplishe Those Thynges

Something strange is happening to people in Georgian London. Weird, ghastly things involving writhing, oily, gray smoke people. This is the hook for That We Maye with Free Heartes Accomplishe Those Thynges, the most recent novella by Thomas M. Waldroon.

Our point of view for this Lovecraftian experience is a young man named Ben, a ne’er-do-well who frequents the backstreet molly houses, or proto-gay bars of the era, where you could trade a penny for a cup of warm gin and a sly wink.

Behind closed doors, we meet vivid and charming characters like the Princess Serenissima, Julia Caesar, and Garters Meg, along with many other similarly be-nick-named queer men who gather together to relax, chat, gossip, and occasionally hook up in the small bedroom upstairs. The city is cold, dark, and harsh. This bar is their respite, and where they make sense of the world.

In addition to the glimpses into 1760’s queer life (which are utterly fascinating), the more general descriptions of food, work, commerce, and social relationships are rooted in painstakingly researched real-life history.

Waldroon, on his website, cites all of the incredible sources used in the drafting of this novella. No detail is spared. Reading it is like reading Defoe or Dickens, but it’s more interesting and infinitely more engaging, in my opinion, as it’s told by someone with a modern sensibility. The events, the geography, and even the slang are embroidered into the story seamlessly in a way that much modern contemporary historical fiction isn’t.

The story’s speculative element is (essentially) a minor part, and it took me a good while into the story to even realize that it had one. Much like the smoke creatures, these additions to the plot are ephemeral, a bit confusing, and make you wonder if they're really real — even when you're witnessing the creation of the smoke monsters in the magical smoke monster factory.

The overall vibes remind me of the 1985 movie Young Sherlock Holmes, which though set in a different era, mimics the historical backdrop intertwined with elements of unexplainable fantasy.

Smoke-fashioned doppelgangers replacing important members of society, from sea lords to baronets. Otherworldly machinations going on behind the scenes, revealing themselves briefly to characters that can scarcely fathom the science or the reason behind them. They're being made for a reason, but we never learn why, exactly.

Sci-fi and fantasy are often set in the future, or else are written in the past and reflecting contemporary anxieties. This story, in a novel approach, is set in the past and imposes a fantastical situation on characters set in the 1760s, which is a fascinating take on the genre. How would people 250 years ago deal with eldritch horror? Especially decidedly non-pious queer characters on the fringes of society?

The answer is woefully, as the poorer inhabitants of London have not the luxury to ponder life’s great mysteries — our main character Ben is shipped off to the colonies as a penalty for stealing back his boyfriend’s shoemaking tools. The hardscrabble and odorous voyage, told concurrently with the events happening in the city, reveal that the smoke monsters are no one-off phenomenon. And he lands in America facing an equally harsh, but more open future.



  • Incredibly engaging worldbuilding based on real-life events, primary sources, and people from 18th-century England

  • Fun and interesting slang you pick up via context

  • Makes you want to read more 1700s literature

  • Takes Lovecraftian ideas back in time

Nerd coefficient: 8/10

Reference: That We Maye with Free Heartes Accomplishe Those Thynges by Thomas M. Waldroon. Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue #386, July 13, 2023.

POSTED BY: Haley Zapal, NoaF contributor and lawyer-turned-copywriter living in Atlanta, Georgia. A co-host of Hugo-nominated podcast Hugo, Girl!, she posts on Instagram as @cestlahaley. She loves grimy, sooty descriptions of London in prior centuries, strangely haunting yet upbeat harpsichord music, and the fact that oysters used to be “big as dinner plates” and sold for but a few pennies to poor and rich alike.