The Talhoffer Society by Michael Edelson is one of the best works of fiction that I have read in the last few years. Well-paced, well-written, and thought provoking. It is an excellent ambassador for HEMA in the world of fiction.
This review: motivation and transparency
I bought this book for my own interest and entertainment, and wanted to offer a good review for what I think is a thoroughly enjoyable book.
(Edit: this “motivation” section was added on the 9th of March 2019, as part of an effort to improve the transparency of the various reviews on this website.)
Over the last couple of years, I have been getting back into the habit of reading some fiction on a daily (or almost daily) basis, and usually a book of this length will take me a week or so to get through in short session each evening. However, I started this book at around 10pm, and finished reading it at around 3am – I simply couldn’t tear myself away from it until it was finished!
The pacing is just right, the characters are interesting, but most importantly: the writing is very compelling. The depiction of fighting scenes, arguably one of the most important aspects of this book for HEMA enthusiasts, is handled exceptionally well – I don’t think I have come across such well-written scenes in a long time. There is plenty of detail for those “in the know”, who can look for particular techniques, concepts, or matters of interpretation of the historical texts; yet the scenes are described in simple enough language for anyone without knowledge of historical fencing to follow and enjoy.
Not only are the nuts and bolts firmly in place, but the book can be read on several levels. At the basic level, of course, the story is great. Someone with a more literary interest could analyse the piece and would find plenty of material with which to work. And if you are involved with the study and practice of historical martial arts, you may find some of the ideas and concepts quite though-provoking with regard to your own practice, performance and interpretation of your chosen art.
This book is one of the best ambassadors for the study of historical fencing that is currently available in the medium of a work of fiction. I would encourage anyone involved with the medieval or renaissance fencing arts to buy a copy, to support Mike’s work, and then to recommend it to others if you enjoy it anywhere near as much as I have.
Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers. I teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.