The horrible thing about being a historical novelist is that the specific information you need often exists, but not in an accessible form. You stand a good chance of being Embarrassingly Wrong on topics such as marriage customs for your particular setting and that — worse — you’ll discover this in your Amazon reviews: “I think you’ll find…”
That’s what drew me to All Things Medieval: An Encyclopedia of the Medieval World, a big fat pricey double volume by medievalist blogger Ruth A Johnston, “an independent scholar with a research specialty in medieval literature and languages” and published by the uber-respectable academic press Greenhill.
In the age of Wikipedia, it’s rather brave to publish any sort of popular encyclopedia, which is perhaps why this one seems priced for the academic and library market. It was of course the price — hefty for a hard copy, and perhaps outrageous for the ebook ($154.44 or £108.48!) — that nudged me into asking for review access. I needed to know: Is it any good for my research?
It’s certainly inspiring and well written; a worthy successor to books like the old A History of Everyday Things in England. Just glancing at the entries for M we have well-illustrated and lively topics: “Machines, Magic, Maps, Masons (See Stone and Masons), Measurement (See Weights and Measures), Medicine, Menageries (See Zoos), Mills, Minstrels and Troubadours, Monasteries, Monsters, Music, Muslims.”