The Appeal of Exotic
Fantasy, it seems to me, is the ideal place for the appeal of the exotic and the strange.
I know of whence I speak, because I grew up reading stories of explorers in Africa (some of which I realized later were small print run first source) and South America.
By about twelve, I had trouble figuring out which continent had which fauna, but I could tell you things like how to set up your camp to avoid attacks in the night; how to walk through tall grass and avoid being jumped by a lion; and to get worried at tom toms or smoke signals.
What use all these things had for a little girl in a Portuguese village, and who, in the normal way of such things (which we can agree I’ve left way behind) wouldn’t even ever leave the village…. is a mystery.
But I liked it as much as I liked stories of the future and the past, because all of them were an escape and fodder for thought and imaginings. “What would I have done if I were a pirate in the age of privateers” is way more interesting than seventh grade social science. Probably more useful too.
The thing is that I seem to be normal in this respect. People like the exotic, the strange, particularly when mixed in with enough of what they are familiar with to make it accessible and interesting. All those eighteenth and nineteenth century paintings of redheaded models in kimonos are the best representation of this wish.
Fantasy is, of course, the ideal ground for this. Urban fantasy makes the familiar world strange, with just a touch of “it’s a secret conspiracy” which humans also like for reasons too complicated to go into.
I’m not 100% sure how you distinguish “made up, with hints of history” fantasy from “Historical fantasy” on Amazon and I THINK their alternate history is under science fiction, which is a right peeve and might mean you have to use keywords to make that leap.
These type of other world fantasies come in several flavors. One is: completely different. This other world has humans, that’s about it. Yeah, sure, I can normally identify the time period of their technology, but other than that it has nothing to do with us and is completely exotic.
I guess here you bring familiarity in by human nature being similar, only.
One pet peeve is in these worlds using names from our world that have known cultural derivations (say Biblical.) It’s not enough to throw the book against the wall, but it’s an annoyance.
The other problem I have is often finding the world building thin. But that’s me, because I love history. I want to know moar.
The other is the totally fantastic world with familiar overtones. Pratchett does that brilliantly with the disc world. Diana Wynne Jones with Chrestomanci. With the added bonus that Chrestomanci is also vaguely historical. I kind of tried for that with Witchfinder.
Then we have alternate history fantasy. In this the fans get as picky as in hard science fiction. They usually know or research the history you’re using, so you’d better NOT step wrong.
And there is, as in hard science fiction a certain amount of handwavium.
Depending on how far back magic entered the world, how can the history be parallel enough to be recognized?
The hard answer is: it can’t. Unless there is some law of history that makes histories parallel even when they shouldn’t be… Unless the divergent effect happened very recently.
So, as with “this invention is possible and will change the world” the reader must invest in not picking it apart.
Part of the fun, both as a writer and as a reader, I think, is recognizing historical figures under exotic attire.
OTOH on vicious fans, you also have to be careful, because if you got hold of primary sources or some other outre form of research, and your fans google it, they think you got it wrong. It is for this that the afterword was invented. For the love of heaven, if you moved something to another year, changed a name, or have a reason to think they used a strange type of lamp, tell them in the afterword, or you’ll spend a year answering emails on it.
All of these fantasies are “inadequately” signaled on Amazon. The most important thing to remember when putting them up is don’t call it alternate history unless it has some content that matches our history, and don’t call it an entirely made up world (in your blurb) if it’s mostly our world with magic and same history we have.
Weirdly even readers who read both genres can get testy if you signal one and deliver the other.