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Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer’s (and Editor’s) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, and Myths

by Susanne Alleyn

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“May we never again read about Dark Ages peasants eating tomatoes; unbelievably plucky/feisty liberated medieval heroines with names like Dominique; 18th-century travelers crossing Europe of the Atlantic in a week; slang that’s sixty years ahead of its time and many, many other such common anachronisms of fact and attitude…”

Preach it sister!

When I’m reading a Historical/Historical Romance/Historical Whodunnit I want to totally lose myself in the book’s world. Little mistakes can really jar me, big mistakes (or not really mistakes but the author simply doesn’t care enough to do any research) can be enough for a DNF. If an author doesn’t want to be reasonably accurate then they should market their book as a Historical Fantasy, or really let themselves go & make it Steampunk!

I have some examples;

One book where various characters manage to travel very long distances in nineteenth century New Zealand/Aotearoa in a very short period of time. I remember in 1960s Aotearoa it taking forever to get just from Auckland to Keri Keri in the north! (in spite of this, this book remains a favourite of mine! Sometimes the heart loves what it loves)

I know I have read one romance where the heroine rode quite a long distance attired in a muslin dress. Can you imagine the chaffing?

Another where the heroine’s name changed (frequently) from Blois to du Blois. They are different surnames!

&, a personal favourite, where the heroine kept her pet goat in an aristocratic house in the middle of London! No, not in the stable – the actual house! Goats defecate constantly & even the cleanest goat will have a smell. No one in their right mind would do that! (I have owned goats myself, by the way.)

So, although I have no plan to write a book of my own, this one appeals to my inner nitpicker & I am planning to leave this one on my kindle for a quick reference source & to use the websites Ms Alleyn gives, as well as the extensive bibliography – which I might use for further reading of my own.

I’ll admit that I did get a bit bored with the explanation on how the British titles work (& that is an error I’m willing to overlook in historical novels, as I can’t be bothered working them out myself!) but finding out how a guillotine is constructed and what foods were available when was very interesting.

Ms Alleyn is critical – but she also acknowledges both her own & her grandmother the late Lillie V. Albrecht‘s errors & is less harsh on mistakes made by authors that didn’t have the wonderful tool that is the internet available to them.

I can’t help but wonder – with underpants being such a modern invention it must have been a tad breezy down there – even with the long skirts. But I guess what you don’t know you won’t miss!