Alternate histories can be best be described as “what if
On a more serious note, I think Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses series is the pre-eminent title in this genre. It falls outside my formula but it’s a YA classic and for good reason. Noughts and Crosses deals with a reversal: People of colour occupy a place of privilege, whilst the others are oppressed. It is much more complex than that; it deals with love, family ties and the ethics of oppression and resistance. I cannot recommend this book enough.
The big lie by Julie Mayhew is a newer book with a common trope in alternate history fiction; what if the Nazis won World War Two? This book examines this from the perspective of the daughter of an English Nazi officer. To describe this book as chilling is a massive understatement; it’s a startling vision of a world made unfamiliar right down to the smallest detail. A massive political change through the eyes of one person.
Now for other items in our collection. It’s interesting to note that is a popular theme in non-fiction as it is in fiction. There are plenty of historians interested in the possibilities. More what if? : eminent historians imagine what might have been (edited by Robert Cowley) is my top pick.
In adult fiction, we have The mammoth book of alternate histories, edited by Ian Watson and Ian Whates. It’s a collection of short stories, so it’s not a heavy tome with lots of lore. On the more fantastic side of things, we have Anno Dracula – what if Dracula was real and turned Queen Victoria into a vampire.
It’s interesting when looking at alternate history novels; especially in regards to who writes them and what gets told and what differences are emphasised. Something to keep in mind while investigating the genre.