AA: The Alchemy of Stone was about feminism, free will, class struggle, and religion, and The House of Discarded Dreams is a place where forgotten dreams fester and take on a life of their own.Heart of Iron released this past summer and I really enjoyed the creative descriptions and imagery while reading it. For those people who haven’t read it yet, what is it about?
ES: Ostensibly, it is about alternate history in which Russia and China (well, the Taipings) allied against Britain and the Ottoman Empire – and the plot involves our heroine, Sasha Trubetskaya, trying to forge this alliance with help from her indomitable aunt, some suspiciously politically acute fur traders, heretical hussars, and some well-known legendary characters, against meddling and resistance from the British Secret Service led by Dame Florence Nightingale. But I guess people will enjoy the book most if they don’t expect a heart-stopping adventure but rather meditation on nature of heroism, national identity, strength, and the role of embarrassment in world history. It’s a very geeky little book, so be warned! I even wrote a historical compendium for it – and you can find it here:
AA: What was the motivation for writing Heart of Iron?
ES: I already spent the advance! Joking aside, I wanted to write alternate history dealing with a place other than the US or Western Europe, and I wanted to address concerns different from the ones Western-focused alternate history explore. Here, we are not looking at manifest destiny, but rather at two countries in the grip of dramatic change (the Taiping Rebellion in China, the dramatic reformism following the success of the Decembrist Revoltin Russia), and at people who are trying to control the chaos around them out of the sense of self-preservation, not necessarily heroics. And as in all my books, I was interested in the themes of oppression and people living under oppressive rules – and still doing their best.