Read Harder: An Alternate History Novel

The 2019 Read Harder Challenge is sponsored by the Read Harder Journal. Get the full list of tasks here.

Created by Book Riot, this smartly designed reading log consists of entry pages to record stats, impressions, and reviews of each book you read. Evenly interspersed among these entry pages are 12 challenges inspired by Book Riot’s annual Read Harder initiative, which began in 2015 to encourage readers to pick up passed-over books, try out new genres, and choose titles from a wider range of voices and perspectives. Indulge your inner book nerd and read a book about books, get a new perspective on current events by reading a book written by an immigrant, find a hidden gem by reading a book published by an independent press, and so much more. Each challenge includes an inspiring quotation, an explanation of why the challenge will prove to be rewarding, and five book recommendations that fulfill the challenge.


Humankind loves to boil down big historical events into a game of “what if?” What if Napoleon won Waterloo? What if the British Empire never fell? What if an African nation beat Europeans to steam technology? And some authors take this game even further by asking: What if dinosaurs or zombies were around during the Civil War? What if Darwin mastered genetic engineering? What if your reality could diverge into two paths? Alternate history novels are exciting explorations that show off an author’s imagination, even for readers who may not normally read speculative fiction, which makes this a fun challenge for Read Harder 2019!

Read Harder 2019: An Alternate History Novel from BookRiot.com | Alternate History | Steampunk | Read Harder | #readerharder | #speculativefiction | #alternatehistory

River of TeethRiver of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

The what-if here is steeped in reality: In the 19th century, Americans considered importing hippopotamuses to Louisiana in order to make up for a beef deficit. Gailey’s novella explores what 1890s Louisiana might have looked like with feral hippos and mercenaries in this story of revenge and survival.

My Real ChildrenMy Real Children by Jo Walton

In 2015, Patricia is reliving memories of her life, but they don’t quite line up. She remembers two versions of everything—her life partner, her children, her career, political events. Is she just confused, and if so, which life is real? This book is great for people who might be wary of speculative fiction, because it focuses on Patricia’s lives and family ties.

The ExplosionistThe Explosionist by Jenny Davidson

In alternate 1938, where history diverged at Waterloo, superstition and Spiritualism are the controlling beliefs of European society steeped in political unrest. Sophie is drawn into an intricate political mystery when a bomb is set off outside of her boarding school and medium delivers a grim prophecy to her before being gruesomely murdered.

EverfairEverfair by Nisi Shawl

This expansive novel imagines a history where the natives of Congo develop steam technology ahead of their oppressors, and where a bit of Belgian Congo becomes Everfair, a utopia. Covering decades and told through multiple points of view, Everfair is a highly imaginative and intellectual novel about what might have been.

karen memoryKaren Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Set in an alternate American west, this is the story of Karen Memory, an orphan now working at Madame Damnable’s high end bordello to make ends meet. Her life is changed when a kidnapped girl seeks refuge from the most powerful man in the city, bringing murder and danger upon all the girls at Madame Damnable’s. With a singular voice, this is a great pick for readers who love steampunk!

Dactyl Hill SquadDactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older

Magdalys and her friends live in an orphanage in 1863, where the Civil War is fought atop raptors. When their friend is kidnapped, they set off on a rescue mission that takes them to a most unusual community and right in the middle of a nefarious plot cooked up by a crooked magistrate! Older cleverly blends dinosaur adventure with little-known history.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing book coverThat Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnstone

Set in present-day Canada, Johnstone reimagines the world if the British Empire never fell, told from the point of view of Victoria-Margaret, crown princess and direct descendant of Queen Victoria, and Helena, daughter of a famed geneticist. The two girls meet one summer, oblivious of each other’s real identities, and forge a connection that has the potential to alter an empire.

LeviathanLeviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Westerfeld recasts the players of World War I as Clankers (relying on steam power) and Darwinists (relying on genetically modified animals) who are pitted against each other when an attempt is made on the life of Archduke Ferdinand. The son of the duke and a British girl find their lives colliding unexpectedly as turmoil plays out across the globe. This is a rollicking start to a fun trilogy that spans the world.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

When the dead began to rise at Gettysburg, the United States was changed forever. Jane McKeene is one of the many young Negro girls training in combat to become a protector of society’s white elite, but when people begin to go missing, Jane is caught up in a vast conspiracy and a frightful colony. Placing a zombie thriller in the past rather than the future gives Ireland the opportunity to shine light on many historical realities and injustices, making this book intellectually engaging as well as thrilling.

Want more alternate history novels? We’ve got you covered.

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