Flintlock fantasy is a growing sub-genre of fantasy set in something like a Napoleonic age. Muskets and magic. Canons and cabals. Add wizards and dragons to War and Peace or The Three Musketeers: pretty damn exciting.
Here’s some examples of the genre.
There was a lot of hype about it, but it didn’t ring my bell. I got through 200 pages, then when I skipped to the end to see what effect the introduction of magic had on the Napoleonic wars I saw that it changed nothing. Nice evocation of writers of the early 1800s (I took a few lit classes covering the period) but not what I wanted to see from a fantasy perspective.
Excellent. Revolution. Conspiracies. Swordfights. Muskets. Introduces a powder mage, a class of magic wielder with a gun. They are great marksmen that can use gunpowder to fire a shot or eat it to cast a spell. That brilliant innovation alone is enough to read the whole corpus of McClellan’s Powder Mage books. You also get the roiling political power-grabbing you’d expect of the black powder age.
Beautiful. The magic is more subdued in Wexler’s world, or contained by the church. This story puts you right in the boots of 2 officers in an army on campaign, led by a brilliant general with a secret agenda. The pitched battles are terrific.
There are others I have yet to read. Some cover the colonial or revolution eras of America.
The genre isn’t new–you could say that the 3 Musketeers, written almost 200 years after it’s depicted setting, has more than a little fantasy to it–but the tropes are still not set. McClellan and Wexler draw on themes from the enlightment: realpolitik, revolution, new empowerment for peasants and women, challenging the established church. FF is still in infancy since no single work has exploded in sales to draw creative minds after it.
I think the time is right for flinklock. The era that it echoes is regularly thrown up on the screen. Both Dumas and Tolstoy get regularly remade. The latest on BBC (W&P, and 3M) have done a great job depicting battle and setting. I really like AMCs Turn for the same reasons. Black-powder re-enactors (American civil war and otherwise) continue to go strong. The right addition of magic to any of these three should knock flintlock fantasy into the mainstream.
Here’s some trope ideas to knock around.
One person (or one item) is not enough to save the world. It takes a movement. The enlightenment is an age of changing minds. High, medieval fantasy cornered the market on this anyway.
Magic is institutional. Like the mix of church and state from the 16 to the 1800s. There were lone priests trying to do their own thing in our history, but the existing churches either squashed them, exiled them, or co-opted them. The whole magical superstructure should be part of the ruling apparatus (which may or may not be overthrown as part of the story). In other words, a wizard on a quest has duties to his superiors in magedom, and maybe to the govt.
In the army. I’d say that the flintlock thing puts guns into the mix, and in history there was almost no way to brew up your own gunpowder. The training, manufacture, and production of arms and materiel put it at the disposal of big and powerful players. The subjugation of newly discovered worlds is a very interesting look at this. Governments tried dozens of way of empowering new types of organizations for this hideous, risky work.
Destruction of the Nobility Revolutions do that.
Rise of Merchants. Power definitely shifts from the landed aristocracy to the savvy banking and trading families.
Conspiracies. Illuminati and freemasons originate in the gunpowder age
I have long been a historical enthusiast of key flintlock sources. Books covering era of revolutions (from Cromwell to Robespierre with a big focus on the 13 colonies) fill my shelves. I know a hundred times as much about these societies as I ever did about medieval counterparts. Still, it took me ten years to change the setting in my own fiction.
Things I’m doing in my books.
It takes a mage to set off a gun. I avoided moving my fantasy over to gunpowder because a fireball is so much cheaper than a cannon. So I made Peters (short for salt-peter) as specialized mages who work with artillery, and Niters (corruption of igniters or Nitre for active nitrogen) as ones that work with units of musketeers.
Early magico-industrialization. I have the arcanerant in place of the steam engines and mills. Magic users of peasant stock are pretty much enslaved to feed raw magic into productive manufacturing. Magicians from the aristocracy are closer to the magicians of other fantasy.
Magic hurts more than the blasted. It is a carefully guarded secret, but using too much magic turns a mage into a monster. Literally. Opening a conduit through which magic travels can get out of hand and turn Merlin into a troll that’ll eat his friends.
Magic is tightly controlled. It takes a permit to cast a spell, drink a potion, own a magic shield. Peasants and yeomen can’t access it at all (unless they are unlucky enough to be an archanik–see arcanerant above). Religious superstition, state authority, and the sheer danger of unrestrained magic all reinforce this tight lid.
Splendid architecture. The era of the Chateau and the Hermitage. How can you not? Magic in the masonry might make things even more splendid.
Pike and Shot The 1600s are my mine of precious resources. The English civil war and the 30 years war were the proving grounds of new military, social, religious, and political principals. Companies were just testing out the integration of muskets inside pikemen units. This was also the century where the American colonies fought the natives and each other in a pitched, life and death, frontier struggle.
Adventure Inc. Companies and charters were the era’s new experiments for organizing people and getting things done. So I made up sicarians, royal charters of adventuring heroes that slay monsters, fight special-forces battles, and protect powerful people at the pleasure of the upper nobles who own them.
If you’re looking to read or (hopefully) write in this exciting genre, let the pictures guide you far more than my half baked ideas.
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