I love historical fantasy, both as a reader and a writer – which won’t surprise anyone who’s read any of my first five novels. Three of them (forming the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy) were frothy, fun MG adventures set in Regency England; two of them (Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets) were dark, romantic adult fantasies set at different historical points in the Habsburgs’ Austro-Hungarian empire.
My first three MG novels and my first two adult novels have been very different in tone from each other, but there was one thing all five of those novels had in common: They all approached historical fantasy as a secret history, in which magic worked discreetly behind the scenes of our real history books. (For instance, the opera house at Eszterháza Palace really did burn down in the historical year I wrote about in Masks and Shadows – but in reality, I very much doubt it was burned down by an act of dark alchemy! Or at least…that certainly wasn’t the official explanation that landed in any of the history books I read. 😉 )
Since I studied music history in grad school, that kind of secret history came naturally to me. It was fun to daydream magical explanations behind real historical events – and it was fun, too, to write historical afterwords to my novels that let readers know which events and characters were real, which were fiction, and where they could go to find out more.
In November 2016, though, I was ready to try something new.
I was furious and terrified about real-world politics. I needed an emotional escape. I needed some comfort, and I needed some empowerment.
So I started writing Snowspelled: Volume I of The Harwood Spellbook – and this time, I came at historical fantasy with a totally different angle.
Why stick with real history this time? Why not let my imagination go truly wild?
In Snowspelled, the Romans never defeated Boudicca. Instead – aided by her second husband, a magician, who handled the magic while she handled the strategy – Boudicca expelled the Roman Empire for good. From that moment onward, it was commonly accepted that ladies were meant to handle the practical business of politics and running the country while gentlemen took care of more tempestuous, emotional magic.
Now, many centuries later, in 19th-century Angland, the nation is ruled by a group of women collectively known as The Boudiccate. Upper-class gentleman magicians (along with a few scholarship students like my hero) study at the Great Library of Trinivantium while upper-class ladies like my heroine are trained to rule. Over the centuries, the human nation has formed a wary alliance with the elves and fairies who share their countryside – along with the elves’ pets, the trolls, who sometimes sleep, forming hills and dales, in the Anglish landscape
But of course even the oldest alliances can be broken…and not everyone wants to follow social rules.
As with Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets, Snowspelled has a strong romantic element, and as with my MG novels, it’s fun and light-hearted and frothy – a comforting escape-read with teeth. But: for the first time ever, I’ve let my history take an alternate path.
This novella was so much fun to write. I’m fascinated by real history, and I love the challenge of working magic into its seams – but it turns out, after spending decades of my life reading history books, it was enormously fun to create my own history, too. I giggled with pure delight as I came up with some of my new worldbuilding details. I loved striding with my heroine through the elven dales.
I loved trying something new as a writer. And I hope that readers will love it too!
Stephanie Burgis lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffee shops, along with her husband (fellow writer Patrick Samphire), their two sons, and their very vocal tabby cat. Her first historical fantasy novel for adults, Masks and Shadows, was included in the Locus 2016 Recommended Reading List, and her first historical fantasy novel for children, Kat, Incorrigible (a.k.a. A Most Improper Magick) won the 2011 Waverton Good Read Children’s Award for the Best Début Children’s Novel by a British Author. You can find out more (and read the first chapters of all of her books) on her website: www.stephanieburgis.com