I’ve recently published two books, The Spellbinder and its sequel Scotland Hard, which are set in an alternate Victorian world. The Spellbinder was the first novel I wrote, though the version on sale has been through significant changes since that first draft. It was inspired by my poem ‘Spellbinder’ which you can find in the poetry section of this site.
The poem forced the setting, it had a Victorian gothic feel to it and I searched around for an appropriate time period for the book, finally settling on 1860. It was late summer when I started writing the novel so that became the time of year.
I knew what Spellbinder’s did from the poem; they could transform one thing to another by writing a spell on paper. If the paper was torn or when the spell wore out it would burst into flame.
This period of history was highly militarist. The British were building an empire, mainly because it made business easier. They had a certainty about their actions and their right to do whatever they wanted reminiscent of the Roman Empire at its height. Victorian Britain was not a nation given to introspection. If magic could be proven to exist then the Victorians would utilise it as if it was a technology. Some people think the science comes first, but this is a fallacy. Engineering happens first from applying observations and then scientists work out how the engineers are doing it.
I had always been fascinated by the fact that Isaac Newton only published his work under duress (usually to stop someone else claiming to have discovered something he’d worked out years before) and he was known to have carried out work on the mathematical nature of magic. This work was destroyed after his death by his vicar. What if it hadn’t been destroyed?
Thus I conjured up the idea of Military Magic, a retired Colonel discovering Newton’s hidden works and seeing the military potential in them. I set this back sixty years before the story starts as I wanted magic to be an established thing.
Magic was bound to give the British a major advantage both in conquest and technology. I set the Empire and its works about twenty years ahead on 1860, though in narrow areas many more years ahead. However, a lot of historical events and people remain accurate to history.
I created a set of magical abilities and introduced the rule that any individual could only have one ability. (A rule I immediately broke because I like my worlds to have surprises).
Setting magic up into the Victorian power structure was a fascinating exercise. The Admiralty would normally have taken control, being the senior service, but my Colonel was an Army man and so I concocted a deal where Military Magic had independence within the War Office.
Naturally, even if a country didn’t have much in the way of magic, the response to the British use of magic would be to create an arms race. A Steampunk world of inventions combining the Victorian aesthetic with ahead of their time technologies.
Laura doesn’t know how to use her powers effectively and she’s far from certain she would want to even if she could. She’s incredibly powerful at the same time as being totally vulnerable. All through these books she’s a target and barely seen as human by those who wish to exploit her, friend and foe alike.
Queen Victoria ushered in an era of sexual prudery that was as intense as it was hypercritical. This was in response to the sexual liberalism preceding her reign. I decided that these attitudes had not made it to the country in my world, while being the norm in the cities and large towns. Thus Tom is a proper Victorian, believing the propaganda while Laura is sexually liberal, having been brought up in the country. This creates tensions between them, especially in the second book.
The Victorian era for me is the era of the gentleman spy, the world of Conan Doyle and Dickens, a period of high adventure and brave action heroes. That was the world I wanted my creations to run lose in. I think I succeeded.