S.M. Stirling is one of the the best writers of alternate history fantasy out there. I also greatly enjoy Andre Norton and Rosemary Edghill’s Carolus Rex series, as is Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire series. I admit to some occasional confusion about what alternate history is versus what urban fantasy is (and don’t even get me started on paranormal romance). After all, urban fantasy does re-write history to some extent; making it include vampires, shapeshifters and zombies. I guess my definition is that if it is something that happens in the past (even if just 1998, as in this series case) that makes things spin off in a different tangent, well that is alternate history. If it is vampires, fairies and other supernatural beings doing stuff in modern, mostly-urban settings then it is urban fantasy. Just don’t ask me what happens in situations where in the past, vampires, fairies and other supernatural beings come out and make things spin off in a different tangent… that is just too confusing (though I’ll read those books, don’t get me wrong. Will just avoid classifying them).
Still, this trilogy is a great example of what a truly gifted writer can do: take the current world, change one thing and create a new world that is as believable as the one we currently live in (is this one real or is it just aliens playing marbles… you decide). Stirling provides us with descriptions of a land gone wild, complete with ruined cities and towns so convincingly crafted we can almost see them. He does dip into the usual writer’s foible of having the good guys be just so darn good, but his descriptions of land, man and beast are so authentic you can almost smell the woodsmoke and see all of those kilts flapping.
Despite its title, this is more of a set-up to the war between the Bearkillers/Mackenzies and the Portland Protective Association, than the actual war. It is like watching the chess pieces being moved about the board; setting up for the final moves. Sorry, I don’t play chess so will have to leave that analogy at that.
If you don’t have this trilogy (Dies the Fire, The Protector’s War and Meeting at Corvallis), I suggest you get them as soon as possible. They are intricately woven tales about how the world could be, and maybe even will be.