The Royal Sorceress series will certainly appeal to all fans of steampunk, alternative history, and fantasy. As well as the fun of the ‘what-ifs’ delivered by the rewriting of our past, it delights with an Empire empowered by magic – all the better for being one we can recognise.
The Royal Sorceress: An Historical Overview
The exact origin of magic has been hotly debated. One group, the Darwinists, believes that magic was the result of a natural human evolution towards a superior life form, while another believes that the origin of magic was tied into the enigmatic Sleeping Plague that swept over the world during the Seven Years War (1754-63). While it is certainly true that every known magician was either a victim of the plague or descended from a victim, it is also true that there were plenty of victims who demonstrated no magical powers at all. The truth may remain unknown.
[Historically, of course, there was no such plague.
In story, the plague affected a number of people from all social classes, but those in the upper classes were cared for when they fell ill, hence the prevalence of magic among the aristocracy.]
While there were plenty of rumours of odd events between the apparent disappearance of the Sleeping Plague and the American Revolution, it took Professor Henry Cavendish – an eccentric researcher – to pinpoint the true nature of magical talents and start studying their actual use. Once magic was proven to exist, he managed to convince the government to fund a long-term research programme into the uses of magic.
[In our world, Cavendish’s research was less spectacular, but no less important for science.]
This did not impinge upon politics until after the Battle of Lexington, when it became clear that the British Empire would have to go to war to prevent the American rebels from declaring independence. Professor Cavendish’s brother, who was among the first to see the military value of Talkers, was quick to convince King George III and Lord North that magicians should accompany the brothers Howe to America and join the force intending to capture New York. Although Howe had his doubts, he reluctantly accepted the magicians – and very quickly became convinced that they could help. Indeed, with Talkers helping to coordinate his forces, Howe was able to mousetrap George Washington and force the rebels to surrender.
[Historically, George Washington was barely able to escape New York with much of the rebel army; had Howe advanced with greater vigour, it is likely that the American Revolution would have ended there and then. However, until the development of radio, the separate parts of an army could often fall out of touch with one another, making coordination very difficult.]
This was disastrous for the American Rebels. France and Spain, which had been considering sending support to the Americans, withdrew as they realised that Britain was likely to win within the year. The American Congress – forced to put command of its remaining troops in the hands of Benedict Arnold, whom they had treated with much suspicion beforehand – discovered the price of mistreating proud and competent men when Arnold surrendered to the British, ensuring that the last remaining rebel army was lost. With Howe intent on ending the war on reasonably good terms, Congress broke up and most of its members eventually became British prisoners.
The news about magic was not believed in France and Spain until a handful of magicians were discovered in Europe. They rapidly became the victims of witch-hunts, urged by the Catholic Church and European Royal Families alike, both of which feared the advent of humans with strange magic. The hysteria swept the countryside, accidentally granting Britain a period with a considerable magical monopoly. Although Britain had its own witch-hunts, a combination of royal patronage and fostering ensured that most magicians survived to reach adulthood.
However, the British Establishment feared the use of magic in the hands of the lower classes and took steps to try to minimise it. The Royal Sorcerers Corps – instituted in 1777 – recruited mainly from the upper classes, but was willing to take on talented lower-class males, while using the females as breeding stock for the farm program. It was hoped that this would eventually give Britain a major advantage in raw numbers.
France suffered a long period of unrest that led to a series of rebellions in Paris and various other French cities, but the Royal Family managed to hang on and maintain control of the overall country. The Royal Family saw fit to blame the unrest on Britain – a number of Americans had been allowed to flee into exile in France – and eventually fought a war with Britain in 1800-02. This war was disastrous; the French lost Louisiana to the British (and their American colonists), while the Quebecois were uprooted and unceremoniously shipped down to Mexico. However, balancing the scales, the French managed to forge a permanent alliance with Spain and establish their hegemony in Europe.
[Historically, the costs of supporting the American Revolution played a large role in shattering France’s finances, which were a confused mixture of laws that ensured that most of those with the money were not obliged to pay tax. This guaranteed that the French Revolution would shatter the Royal Family’s grip on power, eventually leading to the Republic and Napoleon’s Empire.
Here, France weathered the storm, although at a very high cost. However, absent Napoleon, France managed to achieve a comfortable hegemony over Europe. Napoleon always wanted to go too far.]
Unnoticed by many at the time, a young man was expelled from the French École Militaire on the grounds that his family had welcomed the British when they invaded Corsica. Napoleone di Buonaparte, instead of going home, travelled east to Turkey and eventually became the Sultan.
[Historically, Napoleon became the Emperor of France, before losing everything at Waterloo.
In the story timeline there was no opportunity for him to make his mark in France.]
The British Empire fought a number of other wars through the early years of the 19th century. Lord Nelson launched raids on North Africa, eventually destroying the stranglehold of the Barbary Pirates. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of India, conquered much of the Indian subcontinent for the British Empire. Anglo-American colonists struggled with Native Americans as they pushed westwards, watching both the Russians in Alaska and the Franco-Spanish in Mexico with growing concern.
[In our world, Lord Nelson eventually beat the French at Trafalgar; Arthur Wellesley became the Duke of Wellington.
In the story, absent the Napoleonic Wars, Britain advanced faster in India, starting the Great Game with Russia earlier.]
The success of Professor Cavendish (and the ability of some magicians to push the limits of the possible) led to other areas of research expanding rapidly. Airships first flew in 1815; the first cross-channel flight took place six months afterwards. The development of steam engines led to the first railways being constructed, along with factories and even steam-powered ships.
[In the story world, which lacked the Napoleonic Wars, Britain has more resources to pour into technological development.]
Unfortunately, the growth of British power and the defeat of the American revolutionaries caused British society to become considerably more conservative and autocratic. Political power remained firmly concentrated in the hands of the aristocracy, which defeated any meaningful attempt at reform. Worse, the foundations of law and order were becoming weakened as they were used for more arbitrary acts of oppression. It was unsurprising that unrest would simmer through British cities and eventually lead to a series of small uprisings in 1820. The Unrest, as it became known, was crushed quickly and its leadership scattered.
[Historically, the shock of defeat in America, and of the French Revolution, caused some reform in Britain.
In story, there is less impetus for reform. Further, as Britain has kept the loyalist slaveholders in the American South, slavery and the slave trade continue to flourish in the British Empire, rather than being banned.]
Unknown to most of the British population (and indeed most of the government), one of the leaders of the Unrest was Master Jackson, a Master Magician who had served as Master Thomas’s apprentice and planned successor before he discovered the truth. Jackson, rebranding himself as simply ‘Jack,’ fled to France, where he found sanctuary. In exchange, Jack taught the French the basic foundations of magic, allowing them to set up their own version of the Royal Sorcerers Corps. The magician monopoly was about to be badly shaken.
However, in 1830, Master Thomas was desperate for a successor. His gaze fell upon the one remaining Master Magician known to exist … who just happened to be young, female and somewhat opinionated.
It was hard to say which one the rulers of the British Empire considered more objectionable.
The Royal Sorceress, the first book in the Royal Sorceress series, was published by Elsewhen Press in October 2012
It’s 1830, in an alternate Britain where the ‘scientific’ principles of magic were discovered sixty years previously, allowing the British to win the American War of Independence. Although Britain is now supreme among the Great Powers, the gulf between rich and poor in the Empire has widened and unrest is growing every day. Master Thomas, the King’s Royal Sorcerer, is ageing and must find a successor to lead the Royal Sorcerers Corps. Most magicians can possess only one of the panoply of known magical powers, but Thomas needs to find a new Master of all the powers. There is only one candidate, one person who has displayed such a talent from an early age, but has been neither trained nor officially acknowledged. A perfect candidate to be Master Thomas’ apprentice in all ways but one: the Royal College of Sorcerers has never admitted a girl before.
The second book in the Royal Sorceress series, The Great Game, was published by Elsewhen Press in August 2013
After the uprising in London, Lady Gwendolyn Crichton is settling into her new position as Royal Sorceress and fighting the prejudice against her gender and age that seeks to prevent her fulfilling her responsibilities. But when a senior magician is murdered in a locked room and Gwen is charged with finding the culprit, her inquiries lead her into a web of intrigue that combines international politics, widespread aristocratic blackmail, gambling dens and personal vendettas… and some of her discoveries hit dangerously close to home.
The third book in the Royal Sorceress series, Necropolis, was published by Elsewhen Press in August 2014
The British Empire is teetering on the brink of war with France. A war that may, for the first time, see magicians in the ranks on both sides. The Royal Sorceress, Lady Gwendolyn Crichton, will be responsible for the Empire’s magical resources when the time comes. Still struggling to overcome prejudice within the Royal College of Sorcerers, she has at least earnt the gratitude of much of the aristocracy, if not their respect. Just when Gwen needs to be firmly focussed on training new sorcerers, her adopted daughter Olivia, the only known living necromancer, is kidnapped. Her abduction could signal a terrible new direction in the impending war. But Intelligence soon establishes that it was Russian agents who took Olivia, so an incognito Gwen joins a British diplomatic mission to Russia, an uncertain element in the coming conflict. Once she has arrived in St Petersburg, she discovers that the Tsar is deranged and with the help of a mad monk has a plan that threatens the entire world.
The fourth book in the Royal Sorceress series, Sons of Liberty, was published by Elsewhen Press in April 2016
The long-dreaded war between Britain and France has finally begun. French soldiers have landed on English soil and the British Army – and the Royal Sorcerers Corps, led by Lady Gwen – is moving to meet them. But when an inexperienced major disobeys her orders and sends two hundred hussars to their deaths, Gwen accidentally uses her magic to permanently damage his mind and sparks a political crisis at the worst possible time.
In the aftermath of the battle, Lord Mycroft suggests she leave Britain and head to the North American colonies, where British forces are anxiously awaiting a French offensive. The local sorcerers have been poisoned, the local government is barely keeping the colonies under control, the slaves are mutinous and revolution against the crown is brewing. The few locals with any known magical talent are untrained and certainly not ready for combat, but – if they can be trained in time – they may be all that stands between the colonies and defeat.
Accompanied by Irene Adler and Raechel Slater-Standish, agents of the British Crown, Gwen heads to North America. But it may be too late to save the colonies from a disaster that has been long in the making.