With the second season of Sleepy Hollow premiering tonight (yay!), we’re noticing a recent trend in popular fantasy. Gaslamp and Flintlock subgenres have begun to gain traction in the SFF world, so we’ve rounded up some of the historical fantasies that eschew the Napoleonic Wars or the dark alleys of London to focus instead on the American Revolution!
Traitor to the Crown series—C.C. Finlay
C.C. Finlay reimagines the Revolutionary War as a battle between light and dark magic in the Traitor to the Crown series! In The Patriot Witch, A New England farmer with a talent for scrying inadvertently starts the war. Having accomplished that, he finds several individual good witches, plus a whole coven of evil ones, who naturally are in league with the British. He and his partner-in-magic Deborah go behind enemy lines in A Spell for the Revolution, adding their magical abilities to several historical battles. The third installment, The Demon Redcoat, sees near-cosmic clashes of weather as well as armies. There is also time spent on spying over in Europe, which allows Ben Franklin, William Blake, and real-life spy Thomas Digges to have cameos.
A more overtly theological story than Finlay’s, Sleepy Hollow re-casts the Revolutionary War as merely one battle in the ongoing struggle between Good and Evil, with modern Abby Mills and Revolutionary-War-era Ichabod Crane fighting against the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a demon named Moloch, and presumably the Devil himself…although we probably won’t meet him for a season or two. The show uses its time travelling conceit to excavate America’s past; Abbie and Ichabod discuss everything from slavery to feminism, Sally Hemings to McDonalds’ dubious Scottish heritage.
Thieftaker Chronicles—D. B. Jackson
In 1760s Boston, grumblings against the Crown are becoming louder and more prevalent. But thieftaker, magician, and British Loyalist Ethan Kaille has other concerns. Ordinarily he’d be using his powers to track down stolen items for wealthy clients, but now he’s been tasked with tracking down a murderer. He quickly gains not only a rival, Sephira Pryce, but also a new enemy and powerful sorcerer he’s never faced before. His adventures continue in Thieves’ Quarry, and this time it isn’t a single murder he has to solve, but hundreds. The entire garrison of soldiers aboard the HMS Graystone is found dead, without any sign of violence or illness. But who in Boston is powerful enough to kill so many men with magic? Finally, A Plunder of Souls finds the city in the midst of a sweltering summer and smallpox outbreak. Ethan turns his magical talents to a gruesome case: the graves around King’s Chapel are being desecrated. With his powers inexplicably failing him, Ethan must track down the fiend before his ghost army takes Boston!
Powder Mage trilogy—Brian McClellan
Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage books take the most uplifting and grotesque moments of both the American and French Revolutions, and transport them to a strange world, where dead gods rise again, and powder mages use their skill to win wars. In the first book, Promise of Blood, Field Marshal Tamas’ coup has overturned the social order, sending cruel aristocrats to the guillotine and a better life to the poor. Now all of his good work is crumbling, being attacked by royalists, mercenaries, and the Church. He must rely on his estranged son, the expert powder mage Taniel, to hold the enemies at bay. At least, until the rumors of the gods’ return start to sound like truth… The Crimson Campaign sees Tamas and Taniel fighting the god Kezimir on one side, and old-fashioned human corruption on the other, as they work to create a lasting democracy. The Autumn Republic opens with Tamas trying to rehabilitate a fallen city, and Taniel betrayed. Is there any hope left for the revolution?
This doesn’t have much of an SFF angle… well, maybe it doesn’t have one at all. But spies! Early, unlikely, childhood-friend spies! TUR? is based on Alexander Rose’s historical text Washington’s Spies, but the show’s producers couldn’t agree on which letters to turn backwards in that title, so they went with TUR?. Jamie Bell plays Abe Woodhull, a farmer who helps create the Culper spy ring on Long Island in order to aid George Washington. The group’s techniques (which included color-coded laundry!) were so effective that they laid the groundwork for modern spycraft in America.
In Assassin’s Creed III, main character Desmond falls into a trance and has an extended flashback to the life of Ratonhnhaké:ton, a half-Mohawk, half-British man whose father is a powerful Templar. After receiving secret training from the Master Assassin, he allies with the Patriots and works against the Templars on their behalf, even foiling the attempted murder of George Washington. So here we’ve got time travel, fugue states, past incarnations, and dastardly Redcoats—give us the controller, already!
Who have we missed? What’s the future of flintlock as a subgenre? Let us know in the comments!