I’m going to push my review system to the limit by reviewing a mostly nonviolent alternate history story set in 1970s Britain. But Agent Lavender deserves all the positive recognition it can get.
The “Iceland Scale” is simply not suited for something like this. After all, World War III never happens here. And that’s a good thing, especially considering the genre. Alternate history tends to swing to two extremes. Either it appears (especially in mass market fiction) as an often clunky parallel of actual historical events, or (in niche fiction and online postings) as a bunch of events happening for the “thrill of it”, often descending into lurid darkness.
Agent Lavender manages to dodge both these extremes. Yes, in the tumult of Britain in 1970s, stuff happens. But it never spirals out of control or is clearly something contemporary pasted over the date.
This “section” is one of the book’s weakest parts. It can get very “inside baseball for nerd aficionados of British political history” at points. Thankfully this doesn’t take the form of clunky infodumps.
This is where it gets effective. There’s one implausible divergence, and that’s the main character, Harold Wilson himself. A lot of alternate history tries to make the divergence itself plausible. This shows that an implausible zombie-sorceress induced divergence can work as long as there’s care shown to the aftermath.
Agent Lavender probably boasts the best example in this section I’ve seen. The plot and pacing are very, very good. There’s only one small bump in the scenes with Wilson himself that descend into pure goofiness. Other than that, it flows well and avoids a lot of the mistakes.
First, it feels right. This kind of verisimilitude is what makes or breaks alternate history. Parallelism tends not to feel right because it’s easy to tell what event the author is making an analogy of at the expense of accuracy. Lists of events tend not to feel right because they feel very clunky and artificial. An integrated, grounded story like this may not be right (After all, it has the one big divergence and I’m not exactly the best expert on 1970s British politics), but it feels right, and that’s what matters.
Second, the research is done to benefit the story, rather than the story being done to show off the research. Which is to say, it’s integrated to aid the feel of the plot and only dwelled on when necessary rather than just being shoved out in infodumps. The most infodumpy parts are placed in a section at the end where they don’t interfere with the main novel.
The Only Score That Really Matters
Agent Lavender is probably the finest work of alternate history and one of the best political novels I’ve read. It’s not perfect, but what is? I highly recommend it.