A forbidden love. A daring escape. A gathering storm.
Forty years have passed since the Empire was restored. Emperor Kiva the Golden, his wife Jala Parishid, and his brother Marshal Quintillian have together overseen decades of peace and prosperity, a time when the horrors of the civil war could begin to fade from memory.
But nothing can last forever. A forbidden love drives Quintillian from the capital far into the eastern deserts, where he discovers an unprecedented threat to the Empire’s very survival. And when Jala is kidnapped by a sinister and ruthless group of warriors, it will take all of Kiva’s strength to defend her, his people, and their destiny…
Insurgency is the fourth novel in S.J.A. Turney’s Tales of the Empire series, set in a world inspired by Roman history. A sweeping tale of deception, cunning, and military valour, this will appeal to readers of Matthew Harffy, Simon Scarrow, and K.M. Ashman. (Amazon)
The blurring of history and fantasy by S.J.A. Turney
If you look along the shelves of a bookshop, or even browse the categories of an online store looking for your next read, you will find a number of handy, well-defined categories. Some readers will be drawn to crime, or to romance, or horror. Some will find themselves searching for the history section, or the fantasy section. Most genres have a certain amount of blur, for instance Ellis Peters and Ruth Downie are both Historical Crime writers. One might call Thomas Harris’
books Crime/Horror. There are many combinations in this manner, of course, but
one of those least recognised and yet most common is historical
The thing is that half of what we understand to be history is in reality pure legend, myth, and hearsay – basically fantasy. So where do we draw the line between the mythical and the practical? I recently read the first book of Glyn Iliffe’s Adventures of Odysseus. Anyone who knows anything of Ancient Greece or the Trojan war might already wonder where the lines of true history can be drawn, for the tales of Homer are largely accepted to have at least a basis in truth and yet are filled with Gods whisking people from battlefields, serpents sent to slay men, mystic visions, invulnerable heroes, magic armour, and so on. Do these things have a place in history? The answer can only be: perhaps. That depends entirely on the reader’s perspective. I find Iliffe’s work to be no less valid on the Trojan War than the collaboration in which I took part (A Song of War), which is released in October. In our retelling all magic, visions, gods and the like are explained away as far as possible with pragmatic detail. That does not mean we were right and Iliffe wrong. It means we chose to look at the history a different way, removing an inherent fantastic element.
In numerous historical novels, gods and mysticism play a part, and even monsters sometimes, largely because humans who lived in the times we write about believed in such their selves. These things were accepted as a part of life and therefore can equally be accepted in retellings of those lives. Ben Kane, Manda Scott, Gordon Doherty – myself too – have all bent the practical into the unexplained at times to add authenticity and atmosphere to our tales.
And then there’s the flip side of the coin. Some authors have set out writing fantasy that is so realistic that it feels more like history than many historical novels. A recent very popular example is George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones, which, while it contains both monsters and magic, is no more a stretch to the imagination than many Ancient Greek, Viking or Medieval tales. But to move even closer, there is a whole genre centred around fantasy based solidly on historical facts. Guy Gavriel Kay has written many standalone novels that are clearly works of fantasy with odd common threads running through them, which take their flavour and often the bones of the plot and even some detail from a real historical event. The Lions of Al Rassan was a fantasy retelling of the Spanish Reconquista. The Sarantine Mosaic was based around the life and reign of the Byzantine emperor Justinian, and so on. There are other such writers, of course, but I cite Kay as the master of the art.
I myself have tried to blur the lines in my Tales of the Empire. They are heavily flavoured with Late Rome, many of the locations re-envisioned from real places and some of the characters even faint re-imaginings of true historical personages. Such ‘historical fantasy’ or ‘alternate history’ (something more based on the ‘what if…’ principle, such as Guy Saville’s novels) have value for writer and reader that exists outside both the fantasy and historical genres on their own.
For example, I took part in a retelling of Boudicca’s revolt against Rome in 60AD (A Year of Ravens) and while we were able to take a fresh angle and create something I loved, no reader with a basic knowledge of the era is going to wonder how the tale will end. Similar problems hit most historical periods. If I write a book about Caesar (yes I have) no reader is going to wonder if Caesar will pull through at the end. If I write about the second world war, no one is going to wonder whether D-Day will flop and the Germans will cross the channel. See what I mean? History has rules we have to stick to, and that means that many historical novels based on real events or people hold little true surprise for the reader.
Fantasy, on the other hand, can often be too far removed from reality to sync with the reader’s subconscious comfort levels. It is hard to become too concerned with the fate of Zorvax the Ogre Mage’s fate when he fights the nine armed toilet brush of doom. An strained example perhaps, but you get the point. Yet when the hero is a man dressed in a realistic historical manner standing with a sword, up to his knees in snow and bellowing slogans of resistance against an oppressive king… well, it’s so damned realistic it could happen. So it becomes a comfortable read.
Historical fantasy hits the sweet spot for both genres. It creates something unpredictable, exciting and unexpected, yet in such a familiar way that it feels like a part of our heritage. In my opinion, this small but important sub-genre has grown a great deal in recent years and is rising to become of great value in the literary marketplace. Bravo Mr Martin for popularising this concept, though I shall continue to trumpet my own contribution too. I write Roman historical novels and Ottoman ones, but my Tales of the Empire are historical fantasy, flavoured with late
Rome and yet pure
imagination. The latest in the series – Insurgency – was released on the 15th of
August and incorporates a fictionalised invasion of very Hun/Mongol-type horse
clans of a late-Roman/early Medieval empire.
So hooray for historical fantasy and the blurring of genres. Pick up a book you’d never have expected to read. Who knows where it might take you…
Insurgency is published by Canelo price £3.99 as an ebook.