Welcome to Part III of “Historical Fantasy: A History.” Thusfar I’ve led you on quite the little donnybrook through the past and present. Now it’s time to take a look at the future of this vibrant and dynamic genre.
In this post, I’d like to introduce you to some up-and-coming writers in the genre, as well as some recently released and forthcoming works that have been garnering a lot of buzz among readers and critics alike. Add them to your TBR pile today!
- Cold Magic by Kate Elliot (Orbit). Well-known fantasy writer Kate Elliot has wandered into the darkling wood of historicals with this first volume of her new Spiritwalker trilogy. Admittedly, the history in this one diverges pretty far from the actual (The Empire of Rome lasted until the year 1000 and there’s no United States) but the book’s steampunk edge and Elliot’s deft handling of neato-keen themes of revolution and betrayal are sure to prove deeply satisfying. Recommended for readers who liked Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.
- A Star Shall Fall by Marie Brennan (Tor). Brennan’s brilliant 2009 Midnight Never Come put her on the map as a writer of intelligent, gripping historical fantasy and A Star Shall Fall represents (quite to the contrary of its title) a continuation of her brilliant ascent. Set in 18th century London, human and faery to work together to face a challenge (specifically, a Dragon Spirit of Fire housed within Halley’s Comet) that could destroy them both.
- Blameless by Gail Carriger (Orbit). Speaking of stars, Gail Carriger’s continues to shine with this followup to her wildly successful Soulless and its sequel Changeless. Parasol-wielding Lady Maccon (Née Alexia Tarabotti) braves matrimonial difficulties with her werewolf husband, preternatural gestational hijinks and social disgrace in Victorian London, Italy and beyond. The planned five-book series will continue with Heartless in July 2011, concluding with Timeless in 2012.
- A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files (ChiZine Books) This Weird West horror debut is a little bit Louis L’Amour and a little bit Lovecraft. Bloody Aztec mythology and a raunchily explicit gay love story bring a fresh edge to this classic tale of gunslingers and revenge. It’s the first in a trilogy, to be followed by A Rope of Thorns and A Tree of Bones.
- Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard (Angry Robot). Bloody Aztec mythology takes center stage in this critically-acclaimed debut, which comes out in mass-market paperback at the end of October. In it, De Bodard tackles a deliciously dark and woefully underexplored corner of the historical fantasy landscape, setting her tale in Tenochtitlan, the blood-soaked capital of the Aztec Empire. Scrupulously researched, this one breaks exciting new ground. The sequel, Harbinger of the Storm, comes out in January 2011.
- Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor). A sprightly debut from Campbell Award winning author Kowal that has been described as “Jane Austen with Magic.” Despite reports that Austen had rather dainty feet, her shoes are pretty hard to fill—but Kowal succeeds admirably. While Regency romance is an evergreen category, paranormal Regency romance clearly promises to be a hot new trend, thanks in part to this creative reimagining of 19th century English manners and morals. To be followed by a sequel, Glamour in Glass.
Coming Soon (and Not-So-Soon)
- Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis (Atheneum), coming April 2011. Speaking of paranormal Regency fantasy being a hot new trend, this first title in the Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson series from debut author Burgis “… evokes Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Alfred Noyes, and Libba Bray with tongue firmly in cheek.” Targeted at young adult readers, this series will introduce a whole new generation to the joys of a well-crafted Regency.
- Dreadnought by Cherie Priest (Tor) coming September 28, 2010. Priest is certainly no stranger to fans of historical fantasy and her genre juggernaut continues with this stand-alone sequel to the 2009 Locus Award–winning Boneshaker. A steampunk thriller set during the Civil War, the book follows nurse Mercy Lynch on a perilous cross-country trip across a war-torn nation on the Union’s famous steam engine, the titular Dreadnought. Sure to cement the author’s status as the high “Priest”-ess of steampunk!
- Passion Play by Beth Bernobich (Tor) coming October 12, 2010. I’m not quite sure this qualifies as a historical fantasy (the world is said to have a “Renaissance Europe feel”) but it’s intriguing enough that I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. The flower of a wealthy mercantile family, 16-year-old Therez Zhalina flees from an arranged marriage with a cruel and power-hungry man and into the arms of high adventure. I love Renaissance settings, and expect this to be a powerful debut from Bernobich.
- Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (Daw). Again, I’m not sure this first book in a projected trilogy actually qualifies as historical fantasy (he describes it on his blog as “1001 Nights-inspired heroic fantasy”) but I’ve been a fan of Ahmed’s work since I heard him read at World Fantasy last year, and have high hopes for this debut. I don’t quite know when it’s due to hit the shelves, but it’s one to watch for.
As promised, I will close out this little series with a few thoughts on why I think the historical fantasy genre has recently enjoyed such a surge of popularity. The shorthand answer, of course, is that fans of historicals yearn for a “simpler” time. I think we can quickly dismiss that answer (pace Henry Ford) as “bunk.” Even the most cursory student of history quickly discovers that the “simpler” times were actually full of challenges that few today would willingly revisit (Bubonic plague, anyone? Syphillis? How about just a plain ‘ol lack of toothbrushes?) My personal take is quite the opposite—we’re not longing for a return to simplicity, we’re longing for a return to what we view as a time of greater individual determinism. Much is made of our modern sense of alienation, of the creeping unease that we’re rapidly becoming little more than the tools we use and the clothes we wear. That a greater sense of meaning and individual expression is to be found in the history books is, of course, no less bunk than the idea that it was “simpler” to drive a horse-drawn buggy into town than a gas-guzzling SUV. But still, I think our longing looks-back have more to do with what we hope for tomorrow than what we’ve lost from yesterday.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series, and that you’ll all leave your historical fantasy recommendations in the comments section. Assuming my application to join the French Foreign Legion is not approved within the next seven days, I’ll be back next week to answer questions.
M.K. Hobson is the author of THE NATIVE STAR, a historical fantasy romance. Set in an 1876 America where magic is a mostly-accepted part of society, it is currently available at fine booksellers nationwide. Please click on the image to learn more.