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Learning from the mistakes of others – 2

Posted in Irritated Reviews, and Just for Writers

Another Irritated Review™, this time for an Historical Scottish Romance work. (No, the unnamed author is not Diana Gabaldon.)

Things not to do when simulating a time period remote from the present…

The sanitary 1300s

Wouldn't catch him bare-chested -- it's cold!
Wouldn't catch him bare-chested — it's cold!

Our heroine has escaped from south of the border into the highlands on horseback.  Considering that probably half the children would have died of disease in childhood, we encounter remarkably few smells, no lice, nary a bit of spoiled food, etc.  Why, it's just like now.

In fact, it's warm in Scotland, see, and apparently free of biting insects, for our hero is bare-chested for his initial (and several later) encounters with the heroine. With his sword slung over his back. All those blisters from the leather sling chafing his bare flesh must be really attractive.  Sort of surprising that he never does anything about it, like put on a shirt.

Dances have a history, too

This is what dancing was in the 1500s, two centuries later
This is what dancing was like in the 1500s, two centuries later

Couple dancing, with men lined up to ask for the next dance weren't really a feature of the 1300s. It would appear that someone read Jane Austen or some derivative Regency romance and assumed those dance settings applied five hundred years earlier.

The best part was when the heroine is taught by the hero how to dance and she carefully counts “1 2 3, 1 2 3” to help remember the steps.  I hate to tell the author, but the waltz is a dance from the late 1700s-early 1800s. (There's that Regency thing again.)  200 years ago, 700 years ago — what's the difference?

Textiles

Weaving at home, 1700s
Weaving at home, 1700s

Every kind of cloth in this period is very valuable. It consumes many hours of labor to produce woven cloth from the backs of sheep.  Our heroine “borrows” a blanket from a poor family, something that would be unthinkable since it might be their only one.

We hear about the costliness of new gowns, but not about the expense of all cloth. People lend each other clothes as if everyone had a drawer full of T-shirts.

While it's true that the weaving of checks and plaids goes back many hundreds of years (possibly two thousand) across the Celtic and Indo-European communities, the sense of specific clan identity embodied in the concept of tartans is largely a bogus invention of the 1700s antiquarians, aided by the tailor and cloth-weavers' trade.  Plaids — yes.  Tartans — unlikely.

The mechanics of horses and weapons

Big horse, small woman
Big horse, small woman

There's a gosh darn convenient horse provided for the heroine's escape, but it's not very real. Could have been key-operated for all the concern in the plot about how it was being taken care of for the 2-3 days of the wild ride north.

And then there's the saddle that fell off. Now saddles can come loose, they can swing around the belly, but short of a cut girth they can't just fall off. And if the girth were weakening, you'd have plenty of symptoms first. But it's alright, she can climb back on bareback without any trouble at all, petite thing that she is.

In fact, our petite girl seizes a soldier's bow to demonstrate how much farther (and more accurately) she can shoot it. Putting the accuracy aside, just how is a small woman likely to be able to pull a bow suitable for a soldier? They probably have grossly different draw weight requirements.  And where did she get to practice with a bow, anyway?

The economics of families and keeping livestock

Two sheep
Two sheep or our heroine? You choose.

The heroine's step-father hates her and sets her to menial chores, so she's familiar with the life of a servant.  Despite this hatred, he personally teaches her to hunt and fish (and, no doubt, to draw a bow with a large man's strength).

Apparently he taught her to ride, too, since she manages a horse under tough conditions, so it's presumably not the first time for her. And yet her brothers sell her for two sheep.

Now either they are rich enough to have riding horses and two sheep is a silly price (not of interest to someone of their economic standing) or they're so poor that two sheep matter, begging the question of their being able to keep horses at all.

Sex? What's that?

I don't care how carefully she was raised (and she wasn't), any girl who's been working as a servant with other servants would know all about the mechanics of intercourse, even if a virgin. Perhaps “first love” would come as a psychological surprise, but the heroine would not be confused about what it was that “felt like a third leg behind her when he lay close by”.

Verdict

I couldn't finish it, 75% of the way through. I just couldn't make myself care. And, besides, my high blood pressure medication isn't strong enough.

I shudder to think it's the start of a series.

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