A big part of the fun of writing a quasi-historical novel is the research. Although fun might not be quite the operative word as I slog through thousands of pages of political history. It seems like a lot of work for just background knowledge, so it must be fun in some way- I just haven’t realized it yet.
Part of the joy of writing a fantasy version of real events is that I can do whatever I want. So far in my plotting, I’ve seriously compressed time periods (let’s skip the boring parts!), moved countries around, and put key players where they don’t really belong. I’m actually developing a bit of a God-complex. Perhaps I shall reassemble Poland and kick the English out of Ireland. Because I can.
Since I don’t have to stick to historical fact, I can focus on the cool stuff, and ignore or change anything that doesn’t suit me. For instance, anything resembling a long, curly wig will probably not exist in my world.
On the other hand, I will find a way to make use of winged hussars. These were the super-badasses of the time period, which is saying something. The term “hussar” generally refers to East European light cavalry, but the Poles and Hungarians did something different with theirs.
At a time when cavalry was on the decline in much of Europe due to the advent of firearms and increased use of pike formations, Hungarian and Polish hussars seldom lost an engagement. In practical terms, this was because they used lances that were longer than pikes, and wore heavy plate armor that could repel gunfire. In addition, their tactics were highly disciplined and flexible, making it possible for them to strike during the seconds it took to counter-march and reload a musket.
(This is a gross oversimplification. To read a more detailed explanation, check out this article by Radoslaw Sikora- the translator’s notes are worth a look, too.)
To top it all off, they had wings- eagle or ostrich feathers mounted on wooden frames which each rider wore on his back. The combined effect looked intimidating, and sounded terrifying. Winged hussar units routinely trounced opponents who outnumbered them at least 5-to-1. Their most famous victory came at the 1683 Siege of Vienna, in which 3,000 winged hussars, led by Polish king Jan Sobieski, routed a Turkish force that numbered around 150,000.
As I was looking at illustrations of various battles during the time period I’m covering, I caught glimpses of winged hussars. That reminded me of their complete coolness, and I decided I must have a character who is one. The fact that I have no East European characters (yet) doesn’t bother me. Maybe they won’t even be East European. Maybe there won’t be an Eastern Europe! Hmmm.