Tired of alternate history books where the Axis won World War II, or the South won the Civil War? Luckily for you, there are a ton of allohistories that pick more obscure and interesting points of divergence. Here are 15 alt-history books (or series) that break the mold.
Top image: Matthew Buchholz
Just this month, there's Allen Steele's V-S Day, in which the Nazis and the Allies both develop space rockets in 1941. And Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler takes place in a world where Egypt's empire still rules, in the 19th century. And here are 15 other books that forge new directions.
What would happen if a chunk of the Earth suddenly disappeared? And what if it was replaced with a new continent, that followed a completely different path of evolution? In Robert Charles' 1998 Prix Award novel, he explores what that new Earth would be like. The "Miracle" event in 1912 changed the course of history. Years later Guilford Law, an American photographer, joins an expedition to explore Darwinia. Along the way he begins dreaming of a "twin" who brings him the message that things aren't exactly as they seem. Art by Jim Burns.
This isn't your run-of-the-mill alternate history book. Instead of picking a divergent point and speculating on its repercussions, Eric Flint drops a slice of 2000 into 17th Century Germany. A West Virginia town is transported to 1631 Germany. The modern-day Americans must deal with the effects of the 30 Years War, culture shock, and the vast differences in technology.
In 1878, a meteor shower caused a massive dust cloud to block out the sun, causing winter to last for years. The British Empire, and the rest of the world, were in crisis, and Queen Victoria evacuated the British Isles to the colonies. The islands were abandoned to cannibalistic savages. But all of that is in the past during The Peshawar Lancers. The book is set in 2025, when the Earth is finally starting to stabilize after years of ill effects from the meteors. The Peshawar Lancers guard the northern border of the Angrezi Raj (the new name for the British Empire). The book follows their adventures and escapes as it explores what this very different 21st century is like to experience.
Did you ever want more monsters in your history books? Artist Matthew Buchholz has the book for you. He's illustrated scenes from history if they had included sea monsters, zombies, aliens, and all manner of other strange creatures.
Rome never fell, and the Romans rule most of the world. They've taken over the Americas (known to them as Terra Novo) and Caesar has set his sights on China. General Titus Papinianus and Senator Aquila set off on an expedition across Terra Novo to find the fabled land of China. Along the way they encounter all manner of problems including Bigfoot and a mysterious figure known as the Time Criminal.
There are lots of alternate history novels out there about the Civil War, but Mark Sumner's novel is different. In Devil's Tower, the mass deaths of the Civil War have brought about the return of magic to the world. The events of the book take place about ten years after the initial return of magic, when the characters are beginning to adjust to this amazing change in the world. Some people are gifted with "talents" such as conjuring or speaking in tongues. The magic changes America, and as the blurb says, "Nothing would ever be the same again."
This is alternate history — in space! In Richard Garfinkle's book Aristotle was right. The Earth is the center of the universe, and everything is made up of four elements: earth, air, fire and water. Ptolemaic astronomy, Aristotelian physics, and Taoist alchemy are all true. The book follows Aias of Tyre, a scientist who travels on a spaceship carved from the moon to bring a piece of the sun back to Earth.
Among George R.R. Martin's numerous non-ASOIAF projects is the Wild Cards series. Martin edits and contributes to the alternate history superhero anthology shared universe along with writers such as Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, John J. Miller and many others. In the series, an alien virus is set loose in New York City shortly after WWII. Those who survive the process become mutated creatures called Jokers, or superheroes called Aces. The short stories and novels in the series portray historical figures and events through the lens of wild carders. Mick Jagger is a lycanthropic ace, Fidel Castro becomes a baseball player in New York, and Buddy Holly doesn't die in a plane crash.
The land shapes history more than most people might think. In the novella Down in the Bottomlands Harry Turtledove explores a version of Earth where the Mediterranean basin never refilled. Instead of becoming a beautiful sea, the Mediterranean becomes a dangerous sunken desert. In this timeline, Neanderthals never died out, and they have their own nations and customs. After a tourist is murdered in the Bottomlands, investigators uncover a plot to set off a nuclear bomb on the Barrier Mountains, which would reflood the Mediterranean.
Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World meets Jurassic Park, and we get dinosaur circuses. That's right, circuses. When that idea surprisingly backfires, Peter and Anthony Belzoni join an expedition to bring the dinosaurs back to their home, a large plateau in Venezuela. Fun times are had by all! Especially the reader.
The Napoleonic Wars were full of tales of heroism, adventure, intrigue — and in Naomi Novik's version, dragons. The intelligent creatures are used in aerial warfare throughout Europe and Asia. His Majesty's Dragon has all of your favorite Napoleonic battles, including The Battle of Trafalgar, with the added excitement of dragons. Let's hope this starts a trend.
Kim Newman's 1992 novel takes the drama of the Jack the Ripper Murders and adds vampires into the mix. Conspiracy theories about Jack the Ripper can be a ton of fun, but add vampires and you've got great entertainment. The book includes historical figures and characters from all across popular fiction, from 'Salem's Lot to The Picture of Dorian Gray. Anno Dracula is only the beginning of the Anno Dracula series, which currently consists of three books and eleven shorter pieces of fiction.
In 1940, the United States voted to create a refugee settlement In Alaska for Jews being persecuted by the Nazis. And after the the State of Israel is founded and destroyed in only three months during 1948, Sitka Alaska becomes a vibrant home city that "moves to the music of Yiddish." The novel follows Detective Meyer Landsman as he investigates his neighbor's murder, all the while giving us hints at how their world is different from our own.
In Steven Barnes' Lion's Blood, Islamic Africa is the dominant world power while Europe is considered tribal and backward. The novel, set in the 19th century, follows Aidan O'Dere, an Irish boy whose village is attacked by Vikings. Survivors, including his mother and twin sister, are sold to black slave merchants and shipped to North America. This alternate history of America explores different cultures and ideas while giving us a unique look at the horrors of slavery.
Carey's fantasy epic takes place in a secondary world, but it's basically medieval Europe with one major change (besides magic). Instead of worshipping Jesus, people in her version of France worship Jesus' illegitimate son Elua, who teaches a gospel of love and pleasure. This leads to a world where sex workers are celebrated and BDSM is an accepted part of life. The book follows Phèdre nó Delaunay as she is trained as a courtesan and a spy. She uncovers conspiracies and betrayals that threaten to destroy Terre D'Ange.
What did we miss? Name your own unconventional alt-histories below!