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John Whitbourn’s ‘The Royal Changeling’ (1998)

by Séamas Ó Sionnaigh

British, or perhaps more accurately, English writer John Whitbourn is one of the lesser known but more critically praised Fantasy authors of the last two decades. A self-described ‘Counter-Reformation Green Anarcho-Jacobite', he has written a steady series of novels and short stories set in a late Reformation era Europe informed by his Catholic and south of England background and beliefs, and with deep roots in the soil and communities of the Downs Country. Indeed it is English and European history, or perhaps more accurately counter-history, that permeates his works as he has created an entire body of alternate history fantasies of literate skill, noteworthy for their dry humour and accessibility. His books are replete with real historical characters and events skillfully weaved together with the more outlandish folkloric or cabalistic theories of European history (from the Illuminati to the Templers) in a creative manner that puts the likes of American conspiracy-regurgitator Dan Brown well and truly in the shade.

The Royal Changeling

His most accessible book is probably ‘The Royal Changeling’ (1998) which recounts the invasion of England by the Duke of Monmouth, the bastard son of the recently deceased King Charles II of England, and his attempted grab for the throne aided by foreign powers and even stranger (and more ancient) powers at home: for Monmouth is the eponymous royal changeling of the title. For anyone who knows a little of English history, and the folklore and culture of the southern English downs area, this is a wonderfully convincing alternate history coupled with the more magical and supernatural elements of pure Fantasy fiction. Whitbourn (an archaeologist by training) displays his learning and knowledge of  the landscapes he sets the story in with an easy familiarity that is never off-putting and he treats his readership with respect.

Whitbourn’s books are a favorite of those who advocate a distinctly English Fantasy literature and understandably so, and Whitbourn, with his sensibilities, wry wit and undoubted skill as a writer carries it all off with aplomb.

‘The Royal Changeling’ is readily available and it is well worth reading for a more traditional yet suitably post-modern take on alternate histories and Fantasy fiction.



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