Detective (and spy) novels make excellent introductions to alternate worlds because the detective has a good reason to explore. The detective, such as the main character of The Two Georges, needs to move from the alternate American seaboard up north to Quebec, through Indian-ruled territories and other places, which not only allows him to put together the pieces of the puzzle, but also lets us see the alternate world and admire the author’s handiwork in putting it together.
Alternate history novels can also help illuminate more about true history. When we look back at the Nazi Regime, we know that it deliberately set out to murder upwards of six billion people for the crime of being undesirable, at least in Nazi Germany. The people of that era, particularly in Germany, were largely unaware of the true scale of the holocaust. As Fatherland’s hero starts investigating a murder, we know what the murder conceals and watch his horror as he realises that Germany is built on a pile of ashes and bones.
I drew much inspiration for The Royal Sorceress from Sherlock Holmes. In many ways, The Great Game is my tribute to Holmes, although honesty leads me to admit that it doesn't really stand up to Conan Doyle’s work. But then, Holmes — unless you believe this book — didn't have to labour under the twin disadvantages of being a woman and being young. Lady Gwen, the heroine of The Royal Sorceress, does.
It was hard enough to be a detective in the 1800s. There was nothing along the lines of CSI ... or even Life on Mars or The Bill. With no fingerprint testing, no DNA scans, no cameras that might have caught the crime on tape ... it would be difficult to achieve a successful conviction unless one had a great deal of luck or skill. For Gwen, magic gives her some advantages, but her gender and her youth are still great disadvantages since it was hard for men of that era to take women seriously.
Another aspect to a good alternate detective novel is that the stakes can be very different. Just as the hero of The Two Georges fears an American uprising against the British Crown, Gwen fears that a treaty with Turkey will fall through if the murderer of a diplomat magician is not caught. With France threatening war, the treaty cannot be lost or Britain will be at a serious disadvantage in the coming unpleasantness.
And so Gwen, who was sheltered from many of the harsh realities of life before becoming The Royal Sorceress, plunges headlong into a tangled web of treachery, blackmail and murder, with some of her findings hitting dangerously close to home.
Continuing on from the end of The Royal Sorceress, The Great Game follows Gwen’s unfolding story as she assumes the role formerly held by Master Thomas. A satisfying blend of whodunit and magical fantasy; it is set against a backdrop of international political unrest in a believable yet simultaneously fantastic alternate history.
You can download a free sample of the story from my site and then obtain it from any of the links on this page. Reviews welcome.
[I’d also like to mention that To The Shores, the latest novel in my bestselling The Empire’s Corps series, is available here. Free sample on my site.]
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