Life has been crazy lately — it’s the end-of-the-year gotta-spend-the-budget rush at the office, so I haven’t been blogging all that much recently. I’ve got a couple brewing, but all I’ve really got on the go is my thoughts on Christian Cameron’s The Ill-Made Knight, and I have to say I recommend it to anyone interested in medieval knightly re-enactment, particularly 14th-century medieval reenactment.
That’s not to say it was a perfect book: I have my doubts about the level of social mobility depicted; I know there are rumours that Sir John Hawkwood got his start in life as a tailor’s (or tanner’s) apprentice, but I have a hard time believing that such a boost in social standing was that common… even post-Black Death. But the outsider-perspective motif was used skilfully and well to examine the conflict between the nobleman’s chivalric ideal and the reality of war. Basically, you’ve got a protagonist who is relatively unskilled fighter trying to build his prowess and reputation in order to attain entry to the ranks of the chivalry… and having to teach himself as he goes, with predictable mistakes.
So there was a resonance for me, and I definitely think that the issues Cameron examines make it a worthwhile read for anyone who fights in the SCA in particular… especially if your ultimate goal is Knighthood.
The other thing I really enjoyed is the little details; one passage in particular about running in armour actually made me laugh (although it wasn’t a funny scene) because as a re-enactor I knew exactly what he was talking about: “Legs are soft. Steel is not soft. Everything has to fit or the front your greave pounds into the top of your instep, or the back of your greave slams into your ankle, or your knee gets clamped in the main plates of the articulation… Really, there’s a lot to go wrong.” This is clearly someone who knows the phenomenon that we in the SCA refer to as “armour bite.”
I did some background reading and it turns out the author is himself a re-enactor and has published under several pen-names… including Miles Cameron, which was a name that twigged my memory for some reason. So I dug a bit further… and it turns out Miles Cameron was the person who organized The Red Knight’s Deed of Arms down in Prince Edward County last summer. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to that event as it was scheduled for the same day as our Peterborough Folk Festival demo, but it looked like it was fascinating. Cameron staged a hastilude as research for his next novel… so this author is someone who cares about historical accuracy enough to go to considerable lengths to research it. And that attention to definitely shows in this book, which should appeal to the reenactment crowd, if no one else.
So yes, I’d recommend that SCA fighters read it — and over and above the really interesting points and perspectives it brings, it’s just a damn fun read. It’s gritty and realistic without being pretentious or artsy. The details are fun without being overwhelming. It was a good enough book that I stayed up late to finish it because I didn’t want to put it down.