Lists: Alternate History Fantasy

Earlier this year I created a list for Historical Fantasy  fiction.  In that list I stuck to what I termed “hidden fantasy” stories.  These are historical stories with fantasy elements that exist in the shadows and stay hidden from most of the world.  The world around these fantasy events is relatively unchanged as continues on its course to our modern times.  Alternate  History Fantasy is an entirely different ball of wax. Unlike  the hidden fantasy stories, these worlds are ones that have never happened.  They are time lines that are subtly, or not so subtly changed.  You’ll still recognize places and pieces of history and culture within them, because the author is still writing them as though they are an alternate earth, not as though they are another world entirely.

Now, there are some grey areas alternate history.  There are many pseudo-medieval fantasies that may take place in some fabricated place in Europe, but aren’t necessarily based on real places.  For the sake of this list, I’m discounting those.   I want to stick to stories that can be pinned down in place and time to a fair degree.  I’ve tried to include stories that have timelines that are indelibly changed by the presence of fantasy within  the world.  A few of these also meet the criteria for steampunk.  Steampunk crosses into this genre to some amount, but I won’t be including stories where the alternate time line is entirely science fictional (even if by Victorian standards of science fiction).  It must include fantasy elements for the sake of this list.


The Inquisitor’s Apprentice by Chris Moriarty (Harcourt, 2011)  

One of my personal loves is finding stories of science fiction and fantasy set in my home city of New York City.  This unusual series by Chris Moriarty takes on turn-of-the-century New York City–particularly the Lower East Side.  Only this is a New York City where magic and spells weave through the social and historical framework of everyone’s lives.  Sacha is a boy who can see magic and thus has been recruited as an apprentice to the city’s Inquisitor–the man who works to keep magic users in line.  The second book in the series,  The Watcher In the Shadows(2013), just came out this year and continues the adventures of our main protagonists.


Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede (Scholastic, 2009)  

Alternate American history on the American frontier. Patricia Wrede takes the idea of magic and magical creatures and creates a histories of countries and cultures that is similar in some ways to our own, but with significant differences.  Eff is the thirteenth child in her family and therefore considered bad luck by some of her relatives.  Her early years at home and trying to work magic only seem to confirm what they say.  Can Eff discover the truth about herself and learn to follow her dreams?  There aren’t a huge number of frontier alternate fantasy stories out there and this one is very well done.  It’s on the cusp between middle grade and YA fiction, though so it won’t work for every reader.   Eff’s story continues in  Across the Great Barrier (2011),  and  The Far West (2012)  these last two tend to be firmly young adult, but for readers who can tackle the first book, they should be able to handle the other two.


Kat Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis (Atheneum, 2010) 

Alternate British history in the 1803.  Think Jane Austen meets Diana Wynne Jones.   In this slightly alternate reality magic does indeed exist, but it isn’t seen as particularly socially acceptable.  Kat becomes determined to protect her sisters and help them however she may, even if it’s in ways that might not be quite proper.    A mixture of magics, misadventure and romance that’s  quite entertaining.  There are two more books currently out about Kat’s adventures: Renegade Magic (2011), and  Stolen Magic (2013)


The Nine Pound Hammer by John Claude Bemis (Random House, 2009) 

One of my favorite discoveries in the last few years. Fantasy steampunk set in the American theater rather than European.  It’s the story of Ray Cobb, who jumps off a train and winds up in the middle of an adventure . This is an alternate U.S. where the folk legends are real and powerful forces for good.  The villains lurk with a dark and dangerous machine . . . and only the power of the nine pound hammer has ever stood up to it.  The author continues the story in The Wolf Tree (2010) and  The White City (2011).


Mairelon the Magician by Patricia Wrede (Tor, 1991)  

Regency England, with a magic twist!  Kit lives on the streets disguised as a boy,  but when she tries to steal  something from a performing magician, she finds herself tangled in an adventure across England with the  quirky Mairelon.  For Mairelon is not a simple travelling magician he pretends to be, he is a man seeking to clear his name and find a culprit . . . and he may need Kit’s help to do it.  A fairly lighthearted romp through regency England.  While bordering on YA, I find these stories work for middle grade readers as well.  Kit’s adventures continue in Magician’s Ward (Tor, 1997)


Magic Below Stairs by Caroline Stevermer (Dial, 2010)

Set in the same universe  as Caroline Stevermer’s and Patricia Wrede’s young adult novels Sorcery & Cecelia (Harcourt, c1988), The Grand Tour (2004) and The Mislaid Magician (2006).  This companion volume is a middle grade story features a different protagonist in the same world as these other characters.  It doesn’t play as well on its own as it does as a spin-off story for those who like the earlier books, but  it does feature the same alternate history world of Nineteenth century England.


The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap by H. M. Bouwman (Marshall Cavendish, 2008)

Island stories give authors the ability to play with alternate history without having to  rewrite too much.  Set on fictional islands off  of North America in 1787, it  tells the story of a native islander and a British colonial girl who set out to save their people from a deadly curse, and villains out for power.  It’s an interesting and unusual story that fits the parameters for this list.


The Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card (Tor, c1987)

The first book in Card’s Alvin the Maker series that takes place in an alternate history America.  Card’s world is full of legends and superstitions that actually prove true magic.  It’s been said that this story is adaptation of the life of John Smith, but it reads well enough whether this is read into the story or not.  While most of the series is young adult, the first book was one I encountered in middle grade fiction years ago.  Other titles can be found here.


Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale (Bloombury, 2008)

My one graphic novel for the list, this  is an example of the weird and wild West.  In an American West full of magic, we get a retelling of the story of  Rapunzel.  This one’s got a fierce spirit and wicked cool hair.  Lots of fun and vividly imagined.  There’s a follow up volume  that tells the tale of Calamity Jack (2010), and gives us a story of Giant’s, magic beans and a whole lot of trouble!

*****Update 7/4/13–Just finished reading another!


The Lost Kingdom by Matthew J. Kirby (Expected Publication from Scholastic, August 2013)

A new alternate history American fantasy set in the 1700s.  Ben Franklin and George Washington both make appearances in this story, but a majority of the tale follows our young adventurer, his father, and a group of philosophers on their search for the legendary lost kingdom of Prince Madoc.  Lots of fun, quite a few “steampunk” style elements, although earlier in time setting than the traditional steampunk genre.

I feel rather certain there must be more titles to add, but I’ve come up dry–anyone have suggestions to add?


About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on June 30, 2013, in General Posts, Lists and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: