Like your history alternate, your fashions Victorianesque, and your romance with extra steam? Then you’ve come to the right place. Get yer red-hot melodrama, now featuring extra gadgetry and the occasional rampaging cephalopod!
The World of Steam and Seduction
Let's start by imagining that George Washington died of complications from dysentery near the end of the French and Indian war (he was survived by his general, John Forbes…who died in this manner in 1758 in “our” timeline). Because of this, the budding revolution was deprived of both Washington’s expertise in British military procedures, and his disgruntlement with the British military bureaucracy that probably contributed to his willingness to side with the revolutionaries. In short, without Washington, things transpired such that in the end, the revolution was quelled before it ever really gathered…steam.
The British won, and the colonies were thrown on hard times. In order to reward the loyalists, chastise the would-be rebels, and further solidify the British hold on the continent, King George III embarked on a new program that also proved convenient in dealing with the constant problem of second and subsequent sons of nobility in England itself: he established new landed titles in the new world.
The grateful fledgling peers proved far more loyal to the Crown and the royal governors than their revolutionary cousins. They were not eligible for seats in the House of Lords, but as they were a world away from London and none of them had ever expected to hold those seats, this seemed an acceptable condition.
In this alternate timeline, the political landscape of North America developed rather differently, as the map below suggests.
Westward, Ho! But Different
Parliament wasn't stupid; they didn't want another revolution. They approved a system of proxy representation for the re-christened British Dominions of North America (quickly shortened, in popular usage, to the American Dominions or simply “the Dominions”). That development eased some of the tension that had led to the uprising in the first place, but the real increase in stability came with the move by large portions of the populace into farther reaches of the Northern and Southern Dominions.
The newly titled lords assembled their households in the original colonies, then moved them west to farm and mine, raise cattle and mill lumber. Free from the relatively greater constrictions of the coastal territories–too far for the royal governors or politicians to bother very much with–the frontier lords spent most of the next century and a half (or thereabouts) recreating feudal Britain across the vastness of the North American continent.
This meant that the British – who still controlled the greater part of Canada as well – secured their hold on most of North America by the middle of the nineteenth century. The Dominions remained relatively sparsely populated in comparison to "our" timeline. There were no land rushes, no hopeful waves of immigrants; the prospect of moving into a system of revived feudalism held none of the golden appeal of the Land of the Free.
Will I get into a finer-grained analysis of this alternate timeline at some point? Probably not! I mainly just wanted enough historical justification to make use of the Stirling engine.
The Time Frame
Although I may leave clues as to the approximate era in which Steam and Seduction is set, I will never specify an actual year. You are welcome to guess, of course! Here’s a hint: despite the fashion aesthetic, it probably isn’t set in the Victorian era.
You’ll find another hint on the cover of Gossamer Wing.
As much as I can, I try to keep the steampunk technology in the Steam & Seduction books aether-free and plausibly realistic. Some might argue this is counter to the fundamental tenets of steampunk, but to me it’s been an exercise that really gets at the heart of the genre - what if? What if things had gone differently, if the French culture and treasury had been decimated by war and internecine conflicts, if certain key inventors and researchers had either not come to be educated or not followed the paths that (in our world) led to their contributions to internal combustion technology? What if gasoline had simply never become the thing, for whatever reason? What might we have instead?
Even without the magical properties of aether to power devices, people come up with some incredible things. For this series, I wanted to honor that spirit of invention by eschewing aether power and exploring the magic of the human imagination. However, I reserve the right to introduce sentient cephalopods…because, hey, they could be down there.
And for anybody still reading: it’s melodrama, folks. If that’s the vibe you’re getting…yeah, you’re getting the right vibe! So expect over-the-top villains, prat falls, and the general sensation of big, sweeping violin crescendos at key romantic moments!