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Alternate History Fantasy

Traditionally set in some recognized period of history—such  as the Dark Ages, the Victorian era, the Enlightenment, early Rome—these works insert magic matter-of-factly into daily life.

Whether magic causes a divergence from accepted history to lead to a totally new outcome, or whether known history is reformulated as the result of magic, this form can be a lot of fun for history buffs who like to search for inaccuracies or improbabilities within the framework of the story.

The challenge here is to find a plausible, interesting alternative to some turning point in history, given that magic played a hand. And then, of course, the requirements of a good fantasy novel must be fulfilled. Authors who choose this sub-genre are submitting work to a devoted and demanding audience, so the work tends to be solid.

Alternate History Fantasy is also called Historical Fantasy, this form is trending to include countries other than the European ones of the Medieval and Classical ages, and also to treat more recent history.

There is a bit of a difference between the two:

Alternate History versus Historical Fantasy Fiction

Alternate history is set in a place where actual history has deviated from current historical accounts. Think of it as a parallel history to our own, one where events may have been dramatically different. Alternate history can include fantastical elements. One can have alternate history where the rules of the universe follow that of our own or an alternate fantasy where magic works (you might call this alternate history fantasy).

Historical fantasy fiction, on the other hand, takes place during our own history. The history is just filtered through the eyes of fictional (or real, but fictionally reproduced) characters. Historical fiction when it includes fantasy elements or magic is categorized as Historical Fantasy


Alternate History / Historical Fantasy Characteristics

  • Level of Magic

    It's important in this form to maintain a believable depiction of the period where the action takes place. Magic will never be so widespread that events that did happen can raise the question of why some power was not exercised to either prevent it or change it.

  • Level of Characterization

    Many complex characters can exist in these stories, due to the fact that extensive biographies of  the likely historical figures are already known.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    Can be quite high. Oftentimes many events not commonly thought to be related are drawn together to support the alternative outcome, and each one of those events has to be realistically characterized. A high level of interest in or knowledge of the period is helpful in keeping things straight for the reader.

  • Level of Violence

    Every period of history has a characteristic level of sex and violence in the public mind. You can count on those perceptions being supported in the Alternative History depiction of that era.

Related Fantasy Subgenres




    Political Fantasy and some Realistic Fantasy can be considered related, given the fact that  there are real-world requirements that must be fulfilled in order to pass the scrutiny of skilled historians. Historical Fantasy is also highly related, though the difference is that Historical Fantasy may take historical events and reimagine them in some way (Hitler with evil magical powers, The English and French fighting not with navel ships, but flying dragons, etc).

Alternate History Isn’t For You If...

You can't maintain a flexible mindset in terms of reconciling the historical detail with the fantasy elements. If you're not a fantasy fan, but you are a history buff, you might be put off by the flights of fancy that are bound to take place.

Popular Alternative History Fantasy Books/Series