I’ve had my eye on Heather Rose Jones’ Alpennia books for a while now.
Queer swordswomen and magic in an Alternate Regency world? That definitely sounds completely up my alley. But, you know what TBR piles are like…
However! I was really excited to see that the newest instalment in the series — Floodtide — is actually a standalone. Of course, that makes it the perfect place for me to dip my toe into this fascinating world.
One of the things that really interests me about Alpennia, is that it takes place in an entirely fictional country that just sort of squeezes itself into an otherwise historically accurate Europe. Heather Rose Jones has been kind enough to share a bit more about her world-building and ‘Ruritanian’ settings below. It’s a great read!
At the bottom of this post, you can also find more information about where to find Heather online and all the details about Floodtide.
I really hope to catch the Alpennia series very soon. Let me know of you’d be interested in a buddy/ group read.
The Attraction of the Ruritanian Romance.
Heather Rose Jones.
When novelist Anthony Hope invented the country of Ruritania for a series of novels published around the turn of the 20th century, he created a term for a very useful concept: an invented country within Europe that existed in the same world we know but that an author could people with characters, situations, and historical background as needed to suit the desired plot. The concept had existed earlier, but once it had a name, that name took on a life and identity of its own.
At the time Hope wrote The Prisoner of Zenda and the other Ruritanian books, the social politics of his invention reflected the late 19th century Europe he knew. The genre of “Ruritanian romance” that emerged retained a certain flavor of old world tropes and archaic aristocracy that could be romanticized in a fictional country, even as actual real-world European monarchies struggled with relevance and modernization.
The core prototype generally focused on a location in central or eastern Europe (reflecting an English bias that considered those regions “mysterious and unknown”), generally with a swashbuckling adventurous plot that enabled a daring hero to prevail by personal cleverness and skill. Themes often involved the restoration of a missing or deposed monarch.
The broader scope of modern Ruritanian fictions like Genovia in The Princess Diaries feed into fantasies of discovering royal birth, or romance novels in which handsome obscure princes fall in love with commoners without the inconvenience of working within existing aristocratic family trees. Ruritania doesn’t exist in an entirely separate secondary world–part of the fun is that real-world people can travel there and be part of the story. More generally, setting a story in a Ruritania gives the author a chance to play around with world building–to bend the rules of actual history, while still giving the readers an anchor in the familiar world.
That was the reason I created Alpennia. Not so much for an anachronistic fantasy of monarchy–the stories are set in an era when small duchies and principalities still littered the European landscape–but because none of those actual existing countries had the characteristics I needed to make my plot work. I wanted some elbow room for authorial invention and I’m just enough of a historian that I balked at changing the laws and customs of an existing historic society enough to make them fit.
Having fastened upon the idea of setting a story in a Ruritania, how do you go about creating it? The older Ruritanias were often set in a region the readers were expected to be unfamiliar with (especially one that had undergone regular political upheaval) and the details of geography might be handwaved away. Or the invented country might be tiny enough that one could slip it into an existing landscape without displacing anything significant, as with the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.
I needed a substantial piece of territory and a location in the heart of familiar lands, so I took an approach more in the line of folding space. Alpennia sits at the intersection of modern Italy, France, and Switzerland without the inconvenience of displacing any real-world territory. This makes it difficult to show on a map, and requires a certain amount of vagueness when discussing travel routes. Vagueness is often a useful authorial technique.
In the strict sense, the Alpennian stories are not Ruritanian. The setting doesn’t stand outside of the mainstream of European events, and the plots are not concerned primarily with the restoration or maintenance of the monarchy. I do have fun with evoking the traditions of Old World aristocracy, even when my characters chafe against them or plot to overthrow them. Floodtide is perhaps the least Ruritanian of the books so far in a thematic sense. Roz, the protagonist, is a laundry maid and aspiring dressmaker. There is no possibility or even fantasy that she will be discovered to be a long-lost royal heir. She will not engage in duels or political machinations. She doesn’t aspire to be a heroine or perform daring rescues. And yet–just maybe–she will accomplish those things in the end.
Heather Rose Jones
Trade paper, 270 pp, $16.95
Lesbian Historical Fantasy
Bella Books, Inc.
Publication Date: November 15, 2019
Editor: Medora MacDougall
Cover Design: Sandy Knowles
The streets are a perilous place for a young laundry maid dismissed without a character for indecent acts. Roz knew the end of the path for a country girl alone in the city of Rotenek. A desperate escape in the night brings her to the doorstep of Dominique the dressmaker and the hope of a second chance beyond what she could have imagined. Roz’s apprenticeship with the needle, under the patronage of the royal thaumaturgist, wasn’t supposed to include learning magic, but Celeste, the dressmaker’s daughter, draws Roz into the mysterious world of the charm-wives. When floodwaters and fever sweep through the lower city, Celeste’s magical charms could bring hope and healing to the forgotten poor of Rotenek, but only if Roz can claim the help of some unlikely allies.
Set in the magical early 19th century world of Alpennia, Floodtide tells an independent tale that interweaves with the adventures.
A stand-alone book in the Alpennia series (Alpennia #4)
Buy from Bella: https://www.bellabooks.com/product/9781642470468/
Order from these Distributors:
Perseus….800 343-4499 Baker & Taylor……800 775-1100
Ingram….800 937-8000 Bookazine…….800 548-3855
Direct from Bella Distribution
Heather Rose Jones is the author of the Alpennia historic fantasy series: an alternate-Regency-era Ruritanian adventure revolving around women’s lives woven through with magic, alchemy, and intrigue. Her short fiction has appeared in The Chronicles of the Holy Grail, Sword and Sorceress, Lace and Blade, and at Podcastle.org. Heather blogs about research into lesbian-relevant motifs in history and literature at the Lesbian Historic Motif Project and has a podcast covering the field of lesbian historical fiction which has recently expanded into publishing audio fiction. She reviews books at The Lesbian Review as well as on her blog. She works as an industrial failure investigator in biotech pharmaceuticals.
Website and blog: http://alpennia.com
Facebook (author page): https://www.facebook.com/Heather-Rose-Jones-490950014312292/