Iron & Gold is a distinctive collection of six short stories which span the Middle Ages. There is an overwhelming narrative of honour, integrity, love and timelessness which unite these tales. Additionally, there are interviews with each of the authors after each story providing a uniique touch which adds not only contextual background to each tale, but insights into each author’s research process, their upcoming projects as well as writing tips for budding historical novelists.
Firstly, we are transported on a gripping journey in Paul Bernardi’s Beware the Storm, where we see the turmoil of the ocean reflecting the turbulence of battle. Following this, The Tale of Fredegar’s Bane by Theodore Brun is set in the early medieval period and explores love and loyalty between rival kingdoms. Then, we move onto Geoffrey Chaucer’s infamous storytelling quality, in The Miracle, by Phillip Gooden. In his interview, Gooden highlights the lesser known but admirable qualities that Chaucer possessed, but have largely been overshadowed due to the fame of the Canterbury Tales. Gooden’s piece of advice for budding historical novelists is concise but poignant: “don’t get too hung on facts. You are writing fiction, after all. Be respectful of history, not slavish to it”. Paula de Fougerolles transports us to Ireland and the early medieval period with her beguiling story, The Eyrie. The Quality of Mercy by Anne O’Brien explores King Edward III’s reign, his marriage to Philippa of Hainault and the avoidance of disaster at Cheapside in 1331. Following this, we move on to 1036, where we are transported to Edward the Confessor’s naval journey from Denmark to England, in MJ Porter’s To Be a King. Edward quickly realises his birth right to be the heir to the throne of England has been challenged and he faces a dilemma.
A personal highlight for me was: Another Blackbird Field by Peter Sandham. This short story revolves around Vlad Dracula, a historical figure who is largely recognised as Bram Stoker’s infamous Dracula. This tale, set in 1444 AD, dives into Vlad’s fascinating childhood alongside his brother Radu, who were both taken as Ottoman hostages whilst also training as Janissaries. As Sandham reveals, “these decades seem like a crucible in which the medieval era is melted down and recast into the beginnings of the modern world”.
Reading an interview with an author directly after reading their respective short story was undeniably helpful to understand the trajectory of each narrative. A central point that is continuously made by each author about why they like writing about their time period is that it is “easier to write a compelling narrative without tripping over a historical ‘fact’” (MJ Porter). There is an abundance of vitality and complexity within each character in each short story and whilst we see each story present a climax, we are left wanting to understand more about the world in which we have been transported. This collection should compel plenty of readers to check out the longer works of the contributors.