Taking Liberties

Historical fantasy and fact vs fiction

If writing historical fiction sometimes requires taking liberties with the truth for the purposes of storyline, writing historical fantasy makes this almost a dead certainty. But half the fun of writing historical fantasy is in weaving the fantastical elements seamlessly with actual events without rewriting the historical timeline as we know it. You can even inject a fantasy device that directly triggers an actual event.

High fantasy demands world-building from the ground up. Historical fantasy is more like renovating a listed building without permission. You keep the fabric and build on what’s there but also construct some rather strange additions. Working on Gideon’s Angel (Solaris 2013) gave me the opportunity to introduce several real life figures into a fantasy/horror scenario and have them interact with the protagonist and other fictional characters. All of this obviously requires some good research to remain true to the actual person and the time period. But there can be something reassuringly comforting about making a real person one of your characters—like watching an old familiar friend in a new adventure that no one knew about. Who would have thought that Abe Lincoln had a second line of work in vampire hunting?

And readers will get the opportunity to meet characters they thought were fictional but are actually figures from true life. Without giving away the game, one of these is Charles de Batz-Castelmore, better known as d’Artagnan. Alexandre Dumas plucked him from the

The real version of musketeer d’Artagnan lives again in Gideon’s Angel

pages of history and dropped him into The Three Musketeers but in real life d’Artagnan lived almost the same adventure: as a soldier for King Louis XIV, as a trusted confidante of the great Cardinal Mazarin, and as an international man of mystery.

Less well known, but equally real, is Elias Ashmole. Ashmole, scientist, mathematician and founding member of the Royal Society, is best remembered today for the museum at Oxford that he began and that still bears his name. He was also a dedicated alchemist and astrologer. The 17th century was the twilight of an earlier age: new science was discovering physics and the circulation of blood at a time when most people still believed in hobgoblins and that the little old lady down the street was a witch. This head-on collision of medieval and modern makes the period especially fertile ground for historical fiction and fantasy. Gideon’s Angel takes that premise and runs with it. It hits the streets next March in the US and UK.

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