Back in the early 1980s, John M. Ford wanted to write an alternate history novel where Julian the Apostate succeeded in disestablishing Christianity in the Roman Empire. He also wanted to write an alternate history novel where Richard III won the Battle of Bosworth. He also wanted to write a historical fantasy about a world where magic worked. Being John M. Ford, he did all three at once and the result was The Dragon Waiting, winner of the 1984 World Fantasy Award for best novel.
It goes without saying, of course, that a world without a Roman Catholic Church isn't going to have a Richard III. It might not even have an England; that's how great the magnitude of the change would be. And a world where magic really worked would be completely unrecognizable.
Nevertheless, Ford's imaginary 15th century is so vivid that you forget how impossible it is. And like any historical novelist worth his salt, Ford included an author's note pointing out where he had changed history, and where he hadn't.
I picked up The Dragon Waiting at the Bookateria in Newark, Delaware sometime in the late 1980s, and I was sufficiently intrigued by the premises that I was inspired to read other books. One was Julian by Gore Vidal, and another was The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman. I was hooked by The Sunne in Splendour, and its 886 pages went by way too quickly. Somehow I always managed to get it back after loaning it out to other members of my family, and I brought it with me from Delaware to Rhode Island to Pittsburgh. I found other books by SKP, about Simon de Montfort, and the Empress Matilda, and Matilda's son Henry, and they joined The Sunne in Splendour on my bookshelves.
Finally, I found my way to SKP's website and blog, posting the occasional comment in the latter whenever I found something to contribute. As it happens, SKP has been giving away autographed copies of her latest novel, Lionheart, to randomly selected blog commenters, and to my utter astonishment, the latest random commenter to win a copy was me!
I've already thanked Sharon for this unexpected Christmas gift by email, and again on her blog, but third time's the charm, so once again: thank you, Ms. Penman. You are now the queen of my library!