Research Matters

I had a moment of insanity the other night and grabbed a book that was supposed to be wonderful. It was a historical romance, light on the romance, knights and damsels in distress, and dragons. I agreed to grab it, because it was free and personally recommended to me by a person I know. The exact words were “the research put into this book, will blow you away.” After reading the first three or four pages, I discovered the comment was sarcastic, but sarcasm doesn’t always carry over messenger.

The first chapter title was Verona 1380 AD. So far so good. The first line is an introduction to the hero, who for the purpose of this post will be named Knight A was leaning against a tree in plate armor, peeling an orange. Only one big red flag at the moment, but I can ignore it. Just because I’m a stickler for not tropical fruits in Europe pre-1550, doesn’t mean everyone is. Short side line; which came first the fruit or the word orange? In Europe it was the fruit. Which is why people like Jude the Great Nephew (who have bright orange hair) are called redheads. Europeans could paint with orange, they knew the color existed, but it was considered a shade of red, and there wasn’t a specific word for orange. So gingers became redheads. Oranges, pineapples, kiwi, coconuts, mangos, etc., etc., are known as “New World Fruits” they did not exist in Europe before the Age of Exploration and while Explorers and conquistadors ate the fruits in the late 1400s and early 1500s, they didn’t make their way to Europe until the 1500s. Meaning in 1380 in Italy, no one is peeling an orange. They don’t know they exist. Second red flag, no one lounges in plate armor. It was first produced in the 1200s, but it was heavy, cumbersome, and hot… and incredibly expensive. It wasn’t something someone wore for a trip to the orchard to grab some olives (or an orange).

At this point, alarm bells were going off in my head. The person that recommended probably doesn’t know much about the 14th century. Just because I have a history degree doesn’t mean everyone does. The first conversation Knight A has is with a peasant girl and he’s a bit lewd and the writer obviously tried to use Old English to make it sound more authentic, but Old English and Modern English are fairly distant cousins. But I don’t speak Modern Italian let alone medieval Italian, so I can ignore the Old English. I should have listened to the alarms and shut the book.

Page 2, Knight A is trying to convince peasant girl to eat some of his orange, because you know, it’s sexy. Knight B shows up and confronts Knight A for forcing himself on the girl. Knight B is wearing plate armor for a ride through the countryside and jeans. Not britches, not pantaloons, not knickers, but jeans and are described as being made of dark denim. Ok, well, denim didn’t get invented until the late 1800s and it wasn’t mass produced until the early 1900s. So this is just wrong on so many levels. Also, in no world is Knight B going to give a damn about Knight A’s treatment of a peasant girl. Knight A most likely owns the peasant girl since she’s on his lands and feudalism hasn’t completely collapsed yet.

Page 3, Knight A throws down his gunlet (their spelling, not mine) at Knight B’s feet. I don’t know if gunlet is just really horrible spelling and editing or if they actually don’t know the word gauntlet. Either way, I don’t know why Knight A does this. It’s a serious challenge and it certainly isn’t happening over someone’s behavior towards a peasant girl. Knight B, “jumps” down from his horse, and picks up the gunlet. To accept a challenge, the challenged would indeed pick up the gauntlet. Issue two, Knight B is wearing plate armor, the only way he’s coming down from that horse is with a specialized hoist and several servants. Or because someone knocked him off it. Plate armor is actually harder to wear than chain mail and to protect the skin from plate armor, most knights wore two or three shirts under it. So maybe Knight B passed out from heat stroke and fell off his horse, instead of jumping from it.

The final thing that got me was that right then and there, they began their duel. No seconds, no mediators, and only a peasant girl as a witness. It just doesn’t work that way. And before I finished page 3, I closed the ebook and messaged the person back, because as I said, sarcasm doesn’t always show in messenger. The response is that I got further into the book than they expected I would.

I’ve had people tell me that I put too much research into my books. It’s fiction and everything goes… Until you have someone like me come along and try to read it. The best fiction books always have a note of plausibility. Pet Semetery isn’t scary because of the cemetery resurrecting things, it’s scary because it has some basis in fact. We could all see a toddler escaping his distracted mother and getting too close to a road, being struck by a semi, and dying. And all the things a parent would do to fix it. If you are going to bother to put 100,000 words down on a blank stack of pages, then you should care enough about the subject to get it mostly correct. Especially now, when a Google search can assist in research.

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