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Hey, all! Today we have a guest blog from E.C. Ambrose, author of the "Dark Apostle" series from DAW Books. She's here to talk about the joys of medieval surgery! Oh, and to point your attention to the fourth book in her series, Elisha Mancer. To give her a warm welcome and then check out her newest book! (My review of the first book in the series, Elisha Barber, is here.

Elisha Mancer cover

The course of writing about medieval surgery has been fascinating, though I would not recommend it to the faint of heart or weak of stomach. My series, The Dark Apostle, continues this month with volume 4, Elisha Mancer. While it includes all the adventure, magic and intrigue that readers look for in a fantasy series, The Dark Apostle developed from research into surgery during the Middle Ages, and continues to focus on medical practice—including Elisha's arrival at medical school in the fifth and final volume. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I started writing this series while looking for a bit of information about medieval wound care for a scene in a different book entirely—but I immediately fell down the Research Rabbit-hole. Instead of googling an article or two, I ended up with a shelf full of books about the history of medicine, ranging from the delightful Devils, Drugs and Doctors by Howard W. Haggard, MD, to a translation of 14th century surgeon Guy De Chauliac's Chirurgia Magna.

I usually start with secondary sources: academic references and historical surveys, then drill down through their footnotes and bibliographies to find ever more specialized sources and primary sources as well. The odyssey of my research on these books became an epic all by itself. I consulted doctors and medical students for a clearer view on the implications of leg amputation, and corresponded with a medical maggot breeder (yes, they're still being used today). I had the chance to visit the Mary Rose museum in Porstmouth, UK, to see the barber-surgeon's chest recovered from that 16th century shipwreck, and hired a guide in London to view sites like the Old Operating Theater Museum and the original location of the Barber-Surgeon's Hall.

I even started collecting medieval-style surgical tools. Some of these are from a reproduction set made for medieval recreators, including large and small bone saws, hooks for drawing back the flesh from a wound, and wrought-iron scalpels. And cautering irons, of course. I augmented this set with items found at my local flea market, like a parting blade made for severing limbs, a mallet and chisel for removal of fingers or toes, and a small hand drill. Trepanation, anyone? No one? Yeah, nobody at my signings ever volunteers either.

Medieval Surgical Tools

One recreationist I spoke to described how to use a slab of beef, a length of PVC pipe and a large amount of ketchup to simulate an amputation. They don't let me use that one in bookstores. . .

Part of the challenge of the series has been to carry this obsession, er, focus through multiple volumes, always adding to Elisha's knowledge, and the reader's, while delivering all the action and intrigue a fantasy reader enjoys. Book one, Elisha Barber, finds the protagonist working in Coppice Alley—the street of prostitutes—and confronting his sister-in-law's difficult pregnancy. He must pull arrows, deal with the nation's first gunshot victims, care for amputees and create poultices, all the while navigating the politics of both battle and medicine during the Middle Ages.

Want to know more? For sample chapters, historical research and some nifty extras, like a scroll-over image describing the medical tools on the cover of Elisha Barber, visit Dark Apostle Website

E. C. Ambrose blogs about the intersections between fantasy and history at E.C. Ambrose Blog

E.C. Ambrose Twitter

E.C. Ambrose Facebook

Buy Links for volume one, Elisha Barber:

Indiebound: Elisha Barber

Barnes & Noble: Elisha Barber

Amazon: Elisha Barber


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Joshua Palmatier

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