Back to: Some notes on the worst-case scenario | Forward to: A Surfeit of Emeralds: Healthcare in the Middle Ages

New guest blogger: E. C. Ambrose

As you probably noticed, I (me, Charlie) am a bit busy right now. (Actually, I'm in a three-book production deadline pile-up, and next Monday I'm off to New York for a bunch of meetings.) So you'll be unsurprised to learn that I'm lining up guest bloggers to keep you entertained and educated while I'm elsewhere! And first up is E. C. Ambrose, who has some interesting things to say about the history of surgery ...

E. C. Ambrose writes "The Dark Apostle" historical fantasy series about medieval surgery, which began with Elisha Barber and continues with Elisha Magus, Elisha Rex, Elisha Mancer, and a final forthcoming volume. Other published works include "The Romance of Ruins" in Clarkesworld, and "Custom of the Sea," winner of the Tenebris Press Flash Fiction Contest 2012.

As Elaine Isaak, she is also the author of The Singer's Crown and its sequels, The Eunuch's Heir, and The Bastard Queen. Elaine quite enjoys her alternate identity, aside from a strong desire to start arguments with herself on social media. A former professional costumer specializing in animal mascots, Elaine lives in New Hampshire with her family where she works part-time as an adventure guide. In addition to writing and teaching, Elaine enjoys taiko drumming, kayaking, rock climbing, and all manner of fiber arts.



Welcome Elaine. I'm not familiar with your work and I'll probably not have the chance to become so before you post, but Charlie's guests are without exception interesting people, and I now look forward to checking out your body of work.


Hello there, and if you like taiko I hope you're taking the opportunity to go see Kodo on their way through the US.


Medieval surgery? That sounds interesting, can you tell us why you decided on that as a central point in your stories?



Medieval surgery? Now that sounds fun!

Any way to get the ebook in the UK? (Amazon goes "This title is not currently available for purchase" for Kindle)


A few years back, I wrote rules for surgery for GURPS Low-Tech, which covers the years up to 1750. But I had better luck finding out about Roman and Renaissance surgery than medieval. (Roman surgical equipment was astonishingly sophisticated.) So the topic sounds quite interesting, and a list of books you found useful for research would be even more so.


Welcome Elaine!


Google for the book titles via Those links go to the US kindle store because she's published by DAW in the USA and that's her main market.


My apologies for an off-topic comment, I'll totally understand if it's never released from the moderation limbo.

I tried to buy the omnibus editions of Merchant Princes series as Google Play e-books, but it seems there are two versions of each volume! They have different (but similar) cover art, different publishers and dates. And also slightly different prices.

I suspect it's a manifestation of the issues discussed in the CMAP series, but this doesn't help me as a buyer. :) Which one should I choose, or is there any difference at all?

For example: a) The Traders' War: A Merchant Princes Omnibus January 7, 2014 Tor Books

b) The Traders' War: The Clan Corporate and The Merchants' War May 9, 2013 Pan Macmillan


That's easy; Tor in this context is Tor USA for the USian edition, and Pan-Macmillan is the UK edition.


@paws4thot: That was quick! Thanks!

Google for the book titles via Those links go to the US kindle store because she's published by DAW in the USA and that's her main market.

I did - that was the msg from kindle page on the UK store :) It's only showing hardback, paperback & audio in the UK on Amazon - so was wondering if the ebook was available elsewhere on this side of the pond (before I do the account switching, DRM ripping dance with my US Amazon account to read it over here).


Welcome! Someone at ISFDB needs to merge your names.

E. C. Ambrose Elaine Isaak


The editions available in the UK are imports from the USA. Kindle titles would normally only be sold in the UK if licensed by a UK or EU publisher. (It turns out that Amazon are so insistent on territorial rights that a US publisher with world English language ebook rights can't put their ebooks into the UK kindle store without some robot at Amazon asking for a letter confirming they've got the right to do so ... from the [non-existent] UK publisher.)

So if you want to buy the ebook, you'll need to do the account switching tap-dance this time.


Have just ordered the paperback of "Elisha Barber" off Amazon. I figure this is a series I must check out.


I got to see Kodo in Boston not long ago--they were fantastic!


If you go to my website ( I have a bibliography with some of the references I used. A year or two into my research, they came out with a translation of Guy de Chauliac's Chirurgia Magna, which is a great primary source for the 14th century.


The whole series actually arose from research I was doing for a scene in The Eunuch's Heir (one of my Elaine Isaak titles) where I wanted to know a little bit more about historical medicine to treat the protagonist's injuries. So I picked up a couple of books. . .then a couple more, then I had a whole shelf and thought that might be a bit excessive for just the one scene. Medicine is an inherently high-stakes field for plot, and medieval surgery all the more so, besides I kept coming across interesting tidbits, like the thing about removing a witch's curse by bathing in mother's milk (how do you ever get enough, I wondered? Maybe a sponge bath? Are the mothers getting paid?)

Which is not to say I had to write more books to justify my new enthusiasm for the topic. As I was finding the details I wanted for that one scene, I had the visionary moment that usually begins a book for me: A character, in a place, with a problem. In this case, it was a man whom I knew to be a surgeon of some kind, standing in a sunlit doorway, blood dripping from his hands, saying, "My God, I've killed them all."

Who had he killed? And why, and what would happen next? I had to write the book(s) to find out.


Yes, Kodo are magnificent.

(On the other hand, listening to them on head phones really doesn't work. You need your viscera to be quivering to get the real experience.)


Edinburgh is home to Mugen Taiko who perform regularly around Scotland. They're a Fringe regular, not surprisingly. I saw them perform on Princes street last year.


Thanks; I missed your reply in all the other things going on.

But now I have a different question- if your world has magic, how come surgery doesn't go better with magic to help deal with some of the problems? Or does it? That's always a difficult thing, how to balance danger and problems with what the magic can do.


The fringe has had Taiko drumming on a regular basis since at least the late 1990's, which is when I discovered it, in a small venue that meant you stumbled out slightly deafened as if you'd had a full body massage.


I suspect if I asked to come stay with C & F during the Fringe, I'd get glared at.

So, Nojay, you have a spare bed we could borrow?

(More seriously, there is actually a whole bunch of performers whose shows we would like to catch. One year, maybe when we have the time. This year that month is the one we go to Helsinki and a few other countries during.)


That does make me wonder about the effects of brexit on the fringe. (festival, what festival.....) I can certainly see it getting harder and more complex to get hold of the correct visas, and therefore a net loss of acts and visitors.


We could roll out a mattress under the grand piano in the front room if that would suffice?


Since this thread seems to have ground to a halt, and in the meantime I have read the first book, may I presume to answer that myself...?

The answer seems to be: it does, to a certain extent; recovery rates shoot up. But if you know you have such abilities you are strongly motivated to avoid doing anything that might clue people on, in case they set fire to you. And actually performing surgery by magic is beyond most people's abilities in any case; it seems to require a combination of unusually great ability and unusually strong motivation.

What does puzzle me is where has all the dysentery gone. Medieval warfare, especially siege warfare, involved a lot of hanging around doing nothing while two thirds of your troops died of dysentery from sitting in their own shit for months. But I don't recall seeing a single case. Granted our protagonist is on the surgical side, but I'd still expect to have seen at least some mention of something that polished off a lot more troops than the actual fighting did.

I am also puzzled by the nature of the divergence of the alternate history. It seems to have run pretty much as usual for long enough for Longshanks to turn up on schedule, but by the time we get to the overt point of divergence with Eddie 2 dying young, Longshanks thinks it is both desirable and practical to disinherit his two surviving sons, legitimise Hugh Despenser as his bastard, and install him in their place; and it actually sticks, too. So there must have been some pretty major disruption at some point after Longshanks married Margaret to create a situation in which that could happen, and I'm not clear what.


Medieval fighting as attack fighting included a considerable measure of staying nearby doing nothing while most of the troops did their job. Allowed our hero is on the surgical side, however despite everything, I hope to have seen in any event some specify of something that finished significantly a bigger number of troops than the real battling. The historical background is lost for sure.

Dany Lancaster essay writer profile ID 3847265.



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on February 7, 2017 12:57 PM.

Some notes on the worst-case scenario was the previous entry in this blog.

A Surfeit of Emeralds: Healthcare in the Middle Ages is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog