Poul Anderson’s A Midsummer Tempest starts out with a fairly straight telling of the Battle of Marston Moor. There is a difference: Prince Rupert of the Rhine is captured at the end of the action.

And then, the second chapter has Rupert taken to be held as a prisoner at a nearby Parliamentarian manor. Rupert is under close guard, but Shelgrave, his jailer, is courteous, and he and Rupert share an interest the new world of mechanical contrivances that is opening up. In fact, he has his own locomotive that he tinkers with, and access to the new northern rail line.

Into this switch to a more seemingly Victorian environment comes another primary character, Jennifer, Shelgrave’s cousin, an appropriately bold and strong-willed lady in a culture of proper feminine conformity.

The plot gets properly started after Rupert and Jennifer develop some affection for each other, and Rupert escapes from captivity with help from Jennifer, third main character, and… Titania and Oberon.

This odd mixture of history, technology two centuries out of time, and fantasy continue straight through, and in good alt-history tradition eventually gets laid out straight for the reader. The actual high-concept behind the book is that William Shakespeare is The Historian instead of The Bard in this universe, and everything he wrote is literally true here. There are cannons in Hamlet’s Denmark, there are clocks in Caesar’s Rome; overall the progress of technology is well ahead of what we’re used to.

So, with all of this, and magic from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest, it should be a royal mess. But it works. It all works, including some very Shakespearean touches to the language. Overall, I don’t call it great, but it is still not to be missed.