The Age of Revolutions has always fascinated me. After I first learned about the French Revolution as a child, I promptly decapitated my Princess Jasmine Barbie for crimes against the Republic. (My mother screwed her head back on, thus allowing Princess Jasmine to elude revolutionary justice.) This time period, roughly 1774-1849, encompasses some of the greatest shifts in Western thinking, and transformations of Europe and its colonies so seismic that, when asked about the influence of the French Revolution, former Chinese premier Zhou Enlai is purported to have replied, “It’s too early to say .”
But for all these dramatic changes, these great increases of rights for the common man and citizen, the expanded world of the age of sail, it is one of the most whitewashed periods of history in contemporary culture. Period pieces—and the fantasies inspired by them—are pale as debutant’s white muslin gown. In the days before Hamilton suggested that people of color could own and be interested in the American Revolution as much as white students, I had the same historical vision of this time period as a 1950s Republican Senator. I had a vague understanding that the Indian muslins and Chinese silks Jane Austen characters wore had to come from somewhere, but someone like me, a mixed race kid with a Chinese mother and a white American father? I didn’t belong there. There was no place for me in this history.
Enter Tenzing Tharkay, from Naomi Novik’s alternate history Temeraire series.