One of my favourite themes in science-fiction and fantasy is the concept of a person from our world being transported back in time or into an alternate world where the rules of science are different and magic exists. Lest Darkness Fall and Island in the Sea of Time are examples of the former, A Wizard in Rhyme, The Narnia books, The Wiz Biz and The Wizard of Oz (and sequels, spin-offs, etc) are examples of the latter. Often, the lines are blurred; Harry Potter, to some extent, is a variation on the fantasy version of the theme.
Such stories work on two levels. They’re exciting stories (they have to be) but they also let us see the alternate world through the eyes of everymen heroes from our own world, allowing us to see the differences and changes in the timeline thanks to the time traveller. This allows the writer to sidestep one of the most common problems with alternate history, the need to explain the point of divergence to the reader without either absurd conversations or long expository pieces of text.
But something that tends to annoy me about the fantasy version of the theme is that they rarely have room for modern technology. A Wizard in Rhyme has modern technology rarely working in the alternate world, while even The Wiz Biz runs through the ‘magic as computer programming’ theme rather than introducing modern technology. Indeed, the only book I can recall where the newcomer Stranger in a Strange Land introduced modern technology to a fantasy world was A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and that may not be considered fantasy at all.
[I’m pretty sure that I’ll be bombarded with emails about other exceptions to this rule <grin>.]
Schooled In Magic and its sequels follow the adventures of Emily, a shy and somewhat emotionally amused teenage girl (and history nut) from our world as she is accidentally kidnapped into another world by a necromancer with bad intentions. Rescued in the nick of time by another magician and warned that the necromancer is still after her, Emily is sent to Whitehall School of Magic and told to learn how to use magic. For Emily, it becomes a struggle to fit into a new world where nothing is quite as it seems and her mere existence brings her enemies. But she starts to adapt and win friends …
And after that, when it dawns on her that quite a bit of what she considers normal on Earth is utterly unknown in the nameless world, she starts suggesting ideas to her friends. And each pebble she tosses starts off a ripple of changes that sweep across the world and sometimes come back to bite her in some very strange ways.
The nameless world itself is largely medieval, set after the last great empire had shattered, leaving a handful of successor states facing the necromancers, who are slowly strangling the Allied Lands to death. The large kingdoms are ruled by tyrannical monarchies, while city states are semi-democratic and magical families help tie the various kingdoms together. Technology is in stasis, largely because of a combination of social pressure and magic filling in the holes, but the laws of science still work the same way, at least on first sight. There’s nothing to stop Emily introducing all kinds of ideas, from steam engines to gunpowder, that will change the face of the world forever …
… If, of course, she isn’t stopped. And there are many people with a vested interest in stopping her before the ripple of changes become a tidal wave that will sweep away all they know and replace it with something new.
Schooled in Magic is available in ebook form now. A free sample can be downloaded from here, then you can download the book from the links here. And you can read my annotations (warning; spoilers) here.