It is late in 2003 and I am in Stafford in Middle England for FantasyCon. It is an up and down event. On the downside, it takes place on the same weekend as the final of the Rugby World Cup. The English win. That chap Wilkinson. I am unhappy. But I am at the convention, at least in part, for the awards. China Miéville is busy finishing writing The Iron Council and has asked me if I will stand in for him at the award ceremony where The Scar is up for Best Novel. So I get to make a speech on China’s behalf, and I get given an ugly little Cthuloid statue to take back to him. Ah well, at least it wasn’t a bust of Lovecraft.
At the banquet I am sat next to a lad from Newcastle called Chaz. We bond over a number of things, including a shared devotion to the San Francisco 49ers. “What have you written?” I ask. “Well,” says Chaz, “I have this fantasy series set in an alternate version of the Crusades, and it has just started to come out in America…”
It is 2003, two years since 9/11 and two years into George W Bush’s quest for vengeance. Crusader rhetoric is the order of the day. The West is cast as Christian, Iran and Iraq are obviously Muslim. Tony Blair has recently deployed the Dodgy Dossier; David Kelly is dead; and the invasion of Iraq is well underway. This man wants me to read a fantasy series based on the Crusades? It had better be bloody good.
Of course it was.
Outremer is the collective name given to the four Crusader kingdoms founded after the First Crusade. Their actual history is deeply fascinating, and some great historical novels could doubtless be set in them. Brenchley, however, is doing that fantasy thing where a thinly disguised version of real history, with added magical seasoning, allows him to talk about the real world without the associated baggage that readers are likely to bring to it. He can’t have known, when he started writing the books, how appropriate they would become. The first one was published in the UK in 1998. But sometimes we luck into things.
What Chaz didn’t luck into was recognition for what he had created. I did my best with reviews in Emerald City, but the books didn’t capture the imagination in the way I’d hoped. Maybe they were too timely. Maybe there was too much queer stuff for the audience of 20 years ago. Regardless, I am absolutely delighted to have been given the opportunity to bring them to a new audience.
I’m particularly pleased to have the first book nearing completion during LGBT+ History Month. The mediaeval world has been presented to us as relentlessly heterosexual for decades, but we now know that was far from the truth. Human beings have always been queer, and a lot of what actually happened in those days has been carefully excised from history. Slowly modern historians are undoing that erasure. There have even been questions asked of that most macho of men, Richard Couer de Lion. Brenchley is not writing about real people, so there can be no one to say that there is no proof they were queer. Having them in the book is simply portraying the period as it existed, which is a good thing to be doing.
There will be more publicity for Outremer in the coming weeks. I very much hope that the books manage to find a new audience.