The actual origin and meaning of what was once thought to be an ancient Chinese curse—“May you live in interesting times”—is still under debate, but certainly the phrase itself suggests some fascinating potential story lines. That’s even more the case when the world the reader is entering takes place is clearly part of our history…and yet not. Alternate histories such as those written by Harry Turtledove can reveal some intriguing possibilities of what might have been, but what I have always found fascinating as well—and have tried to do in my own novel, Black City Saint—is see how our world turns when fantastic elements such as magic becomes as inherent a part of our history as anything.
His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
His Majesty’s Dragon, the first part in a series, takes place in an alternate version of the Napoleonic Wars where intelligent dragons are part of the struggle. Thanks to the dragons, aerial combat is an integral part and the book involves the exploits of Temeraire and his handler Will Laurence. In the course of the novel and the sequels that follow, we learn about how dragons are treated in a variety of regions, including not only Britain, but France, China, the Americas, and Africa, which adds tremendous depth to this variation of history that Naomi Novik has put together.
Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula and its sequels revolve around a world where Dracula was not defeated and vampires have become an inherent part of Great Britain and beyond. Dracula himself is not so prominent in the stories (although he is consort to a widowed Queen Victoria in this novel), but the books do also have supporting characters that include actual historical figures. Like several of the novels/series mentioned in this post, the series has won awards.
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
Under Heaven is the first novel by Guy Gavriel Kay taking place during the Tang Dynasty. It features the story of Shen Tai, second son of a general, who is, among other things surrounded by ghosts, especially those of the unburied dead killed twenty years earlier during an epic battle between China and Tibet (known here as the Taguran Empire). It is due to some of these ghosts that Shen Tai manages to survive at least one assassination. The author weaves a fascinating tale of loss and honor in a world different from many of those to which most readers are familiar. A second novel taking place centuries later is also out.
Too Many Magicians by Randall Garrett
The late Randall Garrett wrote the intriguing Too Many Magicians featuring Lord Darcy, a criminal investigator in a world where magic is a respected science and used to both solve crime and commit it. It is also a world where Richard the Lionheart’s brother John never ruled and much of Europe and America are now part of a different British Empire still ruled by the Plantagenets. Less known these days, it’s a well-crafted adventure that includes a character reoccurring in shorter fiction later produced by Garrett and two novels written by Michael Kurland after Garrett’s death. Mystery readers will enjoy these stories as well as they are very much whodunits with the answers not always actually affected by magic.
Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly
Those Who Hunt the Night is another world where vampires are a part of society, in this case since the time of Elizabeth I. Set in the dawn of the 20th century, it features Professor James Asher, a former operative of the British government, who is sought out by the oldest of the London vampires, Simon Ysidro, to discover who is murdering (if such a term can be used since we’re dealing with the undead) vampires. The sequels tend to focus on Asher’s wife more and more, but Hambly’s world is one that is always a treat to return to.
Top image from Pan’s Labyrinth
Richard A. Knaak is the New York Times- and USA Today-bestselling author of The Legend of Huma, WoW: Wolfheart, and nearly fifty other novels and numerous short stories, including works in such series as Warcraft, Diablo, Dragonlance, Age of Conan, and his own Dragonrealm. He has scripted a number of Warcraft manga with Tokyopop, such as the top-selling Sunwell trilogy, and has also written background material for games. His works have been published worldwide in many languages. His most recent releases include Shade (a brand-new Dragonrealm novel featuring the tragic sorcerer), Dawn of the Aspects (the latest in the bestselling World of Warcraft series), and the fourth collection in his Legends of the Dragonrealm series. He is presently at work on several other projects. Black City Saint hits shelves on March 1st.