Historical fantasy author comes to town

  • “Elisha Mancher” is the fourth book in E.C. Ambrose’s “The Dark Apostle” series. Courtesy

  • Elaine Isaac in costume holds an example of tools that would have been used for medieval medicine. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 3/1/2017 5:15:35 PM

Medieval medical procedures of blood letting, amputations and other practices by untrained clinicians paints a creepily phantasmagorical story to begin with. Then, mix in some necromancers trying to overthrow society and you’ve got yourself The Dark Apostle series.

Elaine Isaak of Bedford, who publishes under the name E.C. Ambrose, will discuss her books on March 9 at 5:30 p.m. at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord.

Isaak will bring her collection of medieval medical equipment and

explain their use, as well as discuss the research behind her stories and take questions.

The equipment is a mix of replicas, 19th-century equivalents and some hard-to-find pieces her sister had commissioned from a farrier. Some of her collection was obtained at the Hollis Flea Market.

In the fourth and newest book of her planned quintet, Elisha Mancher, title character Elisha continues to confront necromancers, mancers for short, vying for power.

Elisha is a barber, responsible for basic medical service to the lowest classes, until circumstances in the first book, Elisha Barber, send him to the fields of war as a battlefield doctor, Isaak said.

It’s there he discovers his powers and works to use his new-found abilities to help others.

In the latest book, Elisha discovers the mancers who have been plaguing him since the second novel aren’t just plotting to overthrow his home in 1340s England, but the entire European continent. Elisha heads to the mainland to confront them.

Elisha is a fun character to write, Isaak said, because his compassion is a driving force, but also his fatal flaw. He just can’t help one person.

Isaak developed the series based on research she was doing her second novel, The Eunuch’s Heir, which is part of a different series. At an Odyssey writing intensive, one instructor taught the participants to do research even for fiction novels.

Isaak wanted to make a surgical scene more accurate and then, as she said, she “fell down the research rabbit hole.”

Before writing the books, she starts researching in secondary references to get an idea of scope. Then, she said, she looks at footnotes and bibliographies to examine scholarly works and primary resources.

Much is in Latin, but more is being translated to English, Isaak said.

One reference she found particularly helpful was a log by an Italian nun living in the Alps who kept account of the day-to-day happenings, including an earthquake, which Isaak said happened at a convenient time for her story.

Isaak puts the information into a spreadsheet timeline with dates of events that could have impacted the characters in her stories, the birth and death dates of characters and the dates of death for some historical figures.

In the 1300s, there was a hierarchy for medieval clinicians: barbers served the lowest classes and had little training, surgeons served the middle class and had some training, and physicians were university trained and served the wealthy, but did little hands-on treatment, mostly relying on the color of bodily fluids or astrology for diagnosis.

Isaak said this hierarchy naturally lends itself to conflict. There was risk involved, both physically and emotionally.

Isaak has just sent the final installment of the series to her publisher.

“It feels a little strange,” she said. After living with the character for more than 10 years, it feels like she’s saying farewell to a good friend.

She’s still writing though, her upcoming works include an epic fantasy novel and a thriller set in China during the Mongolian invasion, which includes a clockwork doomsday machine.

Isaak said her penchant for fantasy was inspired by her parents.

Her family had a tradition of reading a novel together after Sunday dinner; many of the books were fantasy like The Hobbit or The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

At age 9 or 10, it was her turn to read, she said. Isaak recalled reading a section of a Lord of the Rings book packed with segments of dwarvish and elvish language. It then occured to her that she too could create other worlds and languages.

“I became fascinated with that, with fantasy in particular,” Isaak said.

For more information on Isaak presentation at Gibson’s, visit gibsonsbookstore.com. For information on The Dark Apostle series, visit thedarkapostle.com.

(Sarah Kinney can be reached at skinney@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @sekwrites.)

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