Friday, February 8, 2013

Review: An Alternate History of the Netherlands by J.L. Avey

Guest post by Sean Korsgaard.
Any prospective Alternate Historian has their handful of pet scenarios they cherish and develop over time, crafting an alternate Earth of their own design to varying ends. Mitro has his world where World War I is still on-going a century later, with horrifying results for all involved. I have my attempts to turn the CSA into a Communist Dictatorship. And in the case of Justin Avey (author of the short story "The End"), better known to the various AH online communities as The Kiat, he has crafted the very detailed and aptly named An Alternate History of the Netherlands.

As you might have guessed by the title, both the TL, and in this case, the history book style narrative covers the close to five-hundred year history of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, or it’s alternate historical counterpart here. Starting with an initial POD with the formative period of the Dutch nation during the Forty Years War (aka, the OTL Eighty Years War) and a more successful bridging of the gap between the Calvinists in the north and the Catholics in the south, the result is a stronger Netherlands from its first inception, one that over the following centuries, will expand, shrink, experience glory, victory, pain and defeat, and effect the world in a myriad of ways large and small, ranging from its early Union with Denmark-Norway, it’s perennial wars with its British rivals, to the shaping of the modern world.

The execution of the history book style AH is both admirable in scope and flush with details large and small, many of which have groundings firmly in our own history, adding both a pretext of plausibility to the proceedings. This is especially fantastic considering the often overlooked or ignored history of the Dutch in our own world – like any truly great work of alternate history, it left me just as curious about OTL and ATL, and I often found myself reading up on the details of Dutch history in our world to see where they match or don’t match on our own world, making the experience all the richer. The prose of the tome even manages to perfectly capture that textbook fell without falling prey to the common dry and dull approach to history many textbooks have.
The World of An Alternate History of the Netherlands in 2012.
It’s not without its flaws mind you – it is a lengthy work, and like any textbook, a few pictures to intersperse the work would have gone a long way into breaking up the pages after pages of text, especially given there are some prime opportunities to plug in some of the fantastic maps and battle formations that initially attracted me to the online version of Avey’s project. Much the same, it could have benefited from a proofreader or test reader – there is the occasional misspelling and awkward passage that distracted from an otherwise superbly written narrative. These flaws, though minor, do keep the work from being a must look at.

That said, An Alternate History of the Netherlands is worth a look for fans of Avey’s work online, those interested in Dutch history, alternate or otherwise, or those with an interest an textbook style alternate history – given just how many of the folks who dabble in AH have our own alternate worlds we have lovingly crafted, this serves as a fine example of how one might consider porting your labors into a textbook style work, as well as the potential of in depth alternate histories of often overlooked historical nations – given just how much I learned about the Dutch from this, I’d love to see a few other nations get such treatment in the future.

As for the rest of you, I urge you to look around Avey’s blog, see some of the stuff he’s worked on the story with over the years, and if it piques your interest, defiantly give this a look – if Avey ever makes an amended version with maps and fixing a few of the spelling errors, this could well prove to be one of the best examples of textbook alternate history on the market, and even without, it’s still highly recommended. Given the chance, take a look at the nonsuch Netherlands Avey has crafted, one grounded in our own history yet wild enough to craft a world in Amsterdam’s own image – I have no doubt more than a few of you will gain a greater appreciation for the Dutch beyond dikes and wooden shoes, but as a people who helped shape modern economics and politics, alternate history or otherwise.

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Soldier, scholar, writer and web-voyeur, Sean CW Korsgaard has been active in the alternate history community since 2006, and was recently elected to succeed Mitro as President of the Alternate History Online Facebook group. In addition to his contributions at the Alternate History Weekly Update, he writes for several websites, including his own, which can be found here.

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