History is subjective. Sure it tells us that things happened (eg. deaths, births, wars, inventions occurred). And no one is contesting those events. But history can only present us with likely interpretation of facts. It can tell us that king so-and-so made war on this country. But it can only approximate the motivations for such a move.
It’s been said that history is written by the victors. And there is truth in that. There is an element of story-telling in history. And by that I mean that history contains truths mixed with untruths (I won’t call an untruth a lie, but more of something that sounds like the truth but doesn’t). Because no one really gets the whole picture of what-happened-back-then. Sure we get the general idea of the events. But there seems to be a lot of things between the lines that get missed out.
Isn’t that why historians continue in their research? Isn’t this why historical fiction is so popular? Because we want to understand what happened but we know that a lot of things will be up to our own interpretation.
In any case, forgive me for rambling on. I won’t be tackling historical fiction today.
Instead, let’s tackle fantasy-driven alternate universes, wherein you definitely know it didn’t happen because of the magic elements that definitively changed the course of history as we know it.
For those of you who hated history because all your teacher made you do is memorize dates and facts and for those of you who loved it because you found the subject to be akin to a story with characters that really lived years ago, I think you might like the following books.
These feature worlds with history similar to ours except magic (or something akin to it) evidently happened. Thus, expect to read about familiar historical personages and places. But you get a different (whether slightly or vastly) world from the one we live in.
His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
Napoleon remains a terror for England. But instead of just sea battles, you get to read about aerial battle with dragons. In this version of history, dragons exist. And England needs all the dragons and “pilots” at its disposal to counter Napoleon’s army and dragon corp. And in the midst of this, Will’s ship manages to capture a French vessel that holds a gift for Napoleon, a rare Dragon egg from the orient. This egg eventually hatches and thus we get Temeraire, who instantly bonds with Will.
I didn’t think I’d like this book. But Temeraire’s hatching and subsequent interactions with Will had me hooked.
The Native Star by MK Hobson
It’s the late 1800’s in the United States of America. But unlike the America we know, this America acknowledges the existence of magic with various witches and wizards who harness it and even use it for commercial purposes. The factory version of magic has however been a bad thing to the young witch Emily Edward’s livelihood. And with her beloved foster father old and unwell, she becomes desperate enough to do whatever it takes to ensure they are well cared for. This takes the form of casting a love spell on the most well-off man in the town of Lost Pines, California. To her horror and utter embarrassment (she had to be naked for the spellcasting) , a newcomer wizard from New York named Dreadnought Stanton (and a man she can’t stand) witnesses it.
Unfortunately, a series of events lead to an artifact permanently stuck to her hand before she can even undo her spell. And she and Stanton are forced to travel across the country in an attempt to separate her from the artifact and ensuring that the people pursuing them do not get their hands on it
Honestly, I think this book needs more love. I thought that this alternate universe and the world created therein was wonderful and imaginative. And the Pride and Prejudice fan in me likes the relationship between Emily and Stanton.
The Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffith
Things seem to be going along the same lines in the 19th century. That is, until a species of blood-drinking humanoids (aka vampires) attacked and took the northern part of the earth for itself. Thus, we get humans living in the southern part of the earth due to the warmer climate. And in present day, the human princess Adele is to be engaged to an American senator to cement the alliance of human nations against the vampires. Unfortunately, her ship is attacked and she is kidnapped by vampires.
She is rescued by the legendary swordsman called The Greyfriar. But unbeknownst to her, he is actually the vampire prince called Gareth.
Another book that needs more love. Steampunk lovers will enjoy this book. And for those who love the Scarlet Pimpernel or any similar books that focus on secret identities, I’m sure you’ll be intrigued by this story
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
You probably already know that Bram Stoker’s Dracula is based on the Wallachian Prince Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler. This book explores a what-if. What-if Vlad the Impaler really is a vampire? And every historian that even decides to take an interest in Vlad the Impaler gets targeted?
This book answers those questions. Those with a more scholarly bend would best be able to appreciate this book (IMO). It’s a book about scholars and written for scholars!
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Set in Regency era England, Mr Norrell is the first to successfully practice magic in an era when magic was long thought to be dead. Jonathan Strange eventually joins him to become his student.
There’s more to it than that. But all I can say is that the book amused me with its illustrations and footnotes. These footnotes are for books on magic and sometimes make me wonder if I’m reading fiction or a research paper! LOL! Try it out!
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
This book contains history similar to England’s with frequent mentions of historical personages like Gladstone and Disraeli. But one big difference is that magicians rule the state by their control/enslavement of spirits like the djinn.
One sarcastic, smartass djinn in particular (Bartimaeus) is summoned by a young magician’s apprentice named Nathaniel to aid him in bringing down a high-ranking magician named Simon Lovelace
Told from Bartimaeus’ POV, I cannot help but laugh. His asides consist of footnotes that further explain things in even more hilarious detail. Yes, Bartimaeus is willing to trick, main and kill to get away from his enslavement. But I like him for making me laugh.
Please leave comments and let us know what you think