My intention for this issue of the newsletter was to write about a number of new alternative history novels. The one that had originally caught my attention had been The Book of Esther by Emily Barton. Set in a history in which the Khazar Empire of Central Asia maintained its hold on territory, and on its Jewish faith, into the twentieth century. Faced with the growing power of Hitler's Germany, and its eastern expansion, Esther bin Josephus, one of the few to recognize the real danger, journeys to have a mystical conversion to become the man her culture requires her to be to join military service.
Barton's novel, while well crafted, takes so long to get onto the track of its longer narrative. As a result, it was quickly interrupted by the arrival of the other book I wished to compare it to, Underground Airlines by Ben H Winters. Winters, notable for his ‘Last Policeman’ Trilogy, has created a world in which the American Civil War is stopped by an early assassination of Lincoln, and a compromise written into the constitution of to permit slavery to continue. Jumping into the present, escaped slaves, as well as those who are attempting to aid them, are the responsibility of the Marshall Service. His nameless ex-slave protagonist finds himself an agent of laws many, including himself, do not agree with, but are largely helpless to change.
Winters', who allows his alternative to history to feed into dribs and drabs, creates a narrative that makes it much harder to put his book down. To the point, in fact, where it sucked me in so deeply that I didn't manage to finish Barton's work by the time of printing. While The Book of Esther evoked a world in which I was interested in reading more, it failed to pull me in the same way that Underground Airlines has. That said, once I am finished, I would be happy to let anyone is interested know how the two compare.