December 15, 2010

Steampunk/Alt History Week: Imagining Sophie's Edinburgh

Welcome again to Steampunk/Alt History week. It's time to time travel.

"You see, I am an inveterate reader of British school girl stories, and in many ways The Explosionist is heir to one particular sub-genre of these books--the plucky school girl who foils the Enemy Plot. The majority of these books are set in World War I and World War II, and often strain the bounds of credulity (see footnote). The Explosionist, however, takes this story line and in its fantastical, alternate history way, makes it convincing and wonderful." - Charlotte of Charlotte's Library

"Sophie is believably awkward and the intrigue is actually intriguing. The tone is suitably foreboding and the worldbuilding excellent. First in a trilogy, I believe, which makes me happily impatient, if such a thing is possible. (Or should that be impatiently happy?) I’m looking forward to the next book, at any rate." - Trisha, the YaYaYa's

"Despite my reservations, I quite enjoyed it. I’m very much invested in Sophie’s story, and I’m rather dying to know what happens next." - Leila, Bookshelves of Doom

Ah, Sophie, how we love you.

Sophie herself has loads of quirk and charm, but I thought I'd give a brief moment of love to the city in which she lives, and in which we are first introduced to her - Edinburgh.

Edinburgh - Queen's Residence 13

I always love the descriptions of place, when I'm reading a novel with a familiar setting. I think to myself, "Hey, I've been there!" That wasn't quite as easy to do when reading Jenny Davidson's books, mainly because Sophie's center of life was in schools, labs, and séances, none of which is easily found just by wandering the city. (Well, I could find schools and labs, but people are notoriously difficult about letting random strangers in to photograph.) Because the Edinburgh of today is to me a maze of crazy-making narrow streets, hills, long stairwells and places to get lost (it could be just me, but I can get lost in a cul-de-sac), just getting around was kind of a kick. This is city with a lot of charm, and I enjoyed taking a few snapshots of the city with alternative history in mind.

Imagine if Napoleon had won at Waterloo, as he did in Sophie's Edinburgh, as described in Jenny Davidson's 2009 novel The Explosionist and its sequel Invisible Things... would the Queen's city residence have this lovely lion, which is the symbol of English sovereignty? No, it would not, nor would it have the unicorn, which for some odd reason is the symbol of Scotland. It would have on it an eagle and a bee, which were his favored symbols.

Edinburgh 244Of course, things in Sophie's Edinburgh were a bit unstable. Lots of bombings and such, and there was a lot of angst, what with the Institute for the Recruitment of Young Ladies swooping in and redirecting the future of young ladies -- and not at all in any profitable way, I might add! It was not like the calm and staid Edinburgh of today (unless you're a student concerned with your school fees being raised to what international students have to pay -- not so staid on that topic). Still, there were Official People around in Sophie's Edinburgh -- there to stare at you suspiciously, and shoo you out of areas wherein you were not meant to go. Possibly some of them would have rocked this lovely woolen cape, plaid trou and glengarry hat as well.

Edinburgh D 43 HDROf course, Napoleonic trousers would have been white or pale gray, and spared us that tartan plaid. Fortunately.

Sophie's Edinburgh was a place of learning -- science and technology with a sprinkling of spiritualism and séances. Sophie's favorite teacher, Mr. Peterson, would have loved to interest her in the Calton Hill Observatory, for a little star-watching. She would have gone past the old burial ground, but there would be no Martyr's Monument, because I kind of doubt that Napoleon would have allowed the names of those who fought against him to be remembered -- at all. Ever. However, a graveyard is always a great place to wander with a medium! Maybe Sophie would have received a bit less cryptic of a message about her life if she'd come here first!

One thing that wouldn't have changed, though, is Arthur's Seat and the Castle Rock, which has been, is, and always will be the bulwark of the city. Looming over everyone, no matter whose castle was atop it, this old crag would probably be crawling with naturalists wandering around taking flora and fauna samples, it would be being flown-over by dirigibles and possibly being blown full of tunnels, thanks to Mr. Nobel's dynamite, but I think somehow it would still be there.
Edinburgh D 15

Edinburgh would hardly be Edinburgh, in this time, or Alternate 1938, without it.

Stay tuned for more fun Alt History/Steampunk celebrations!


Sarah Stevenson said...

The castle is such a monolith, looming over the city! Amazing. I've only spent a couple of days in Edinburgh, and I was a lot younger, but it was enough to know I'd like to see it again. :)

Colleen said...

This is a great post! I wish we could have similar posts for all sorts of alt hist/steampunk type destinations. And that last picture - gorgeous!