Friday, May 31, 2013

Giveaway: Of Fathers and Sons by Evan Ostryzniuk

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by Evan Ostryzniuk
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Girl trouble: Why Catherine the astrologer has no surname

The English Free Company series suffers from a gender imbalance. Largely owing to the subject matter, which focuses on medieval military, the number of leading female characters is few. In fact, it is just one at the moment, a young woman named Catherine who works as a court astrologer. In the novel, no surname is given for Catherine, although it is clear that she is well-known in court circles. This might sound rather odd, suggesting an oversight on my part or signaling a dismissive attitude towards the character, but neither conclusion could be further from the truth. Rather, the use of a single name to reference this important character is meant to reflect her ambiguous position in society as an unmarried woman and independent agent engaged in an unconventional profession.

When I was approaching the question of how to include female characters, I immediately decided to avoid the three ‘p’s: princesses, peasants and prostitutes, all stereotypes that plague historical fiction. While I quite understand the appeal of these sorts of women, whether for romance, redemption or raunchiness (more alliteration!) none of them could be sustained for long in my series without her eventually being burdened by one of the literary tropes. Therefore, I sought out someone who would be original, memorable and free to move around with the series. The trouble with this search is that in the Middle Ages, women on the whole were never left to wander about alone. Even high-born ladies, with a few exceptions, were by law and custom tied to her lord or manor. Naturally, the lower classes had it worse. Even an emancipated prostitute offered limited possibilities for my narrative purposes. All that was left, then, were nuns and middling sort of women who practiced unconventional arts, such as natural healing or astrology.

As an astrologer in the Middle Ages, particularly in the wealthier parts of Europe, a woman like Catherine would have enjoyed a lucrative and mobile career. She is clearly educated, clever, attractive in an exotic way, emotionally strong, and morally erect, at least to the world. Yet, to be successful she should retain a sense of mystery, since she needs to display a special almost mystical connection with the arcane knowledge of astrology. This is one reason why she does not reveal her family name, which was the main badge of identity, or her place of birth, which could also have served as a surname. This ambiguity, instead of making her an outcast, which she already is to a degree, gives Catherine power. After all, she could be anybody!

By assuming the single name Catherine, the lady astrologer associates herself with as saintly legacy. The Catholic Church is filled with holy Catherines, and so the name serves as a sort of charm. People in the Middle Ages sincerely believed in the power of patron saints to protect, and so their choice was never take lightly. For example, 4th c. Catherine of Alexandria was a master of arts and philosophy, beautiful enough the attract the attention a Roman emperor, and remained a virgin when martyred, while 14th c. Catherine of Siena was a church reformer and involved in power politics. Contemporaries of my Catherine would have made the connection. A second name would have just got in the way.

Astrology was one of the most independent, if not lonely, careers. Catherine’s decision to pursue this profession, therefore, is quite revelatory of her character. So much is required to become successful at it – study, soliciting clients, solitude – that there must be a lot more to her than meets the eye. This gives me the opportunity to gradually spin out her story over the course of several novels, as well as get her to the places that I need her to be. Catherine the astrologer, companion and advisor to the English Free Company, can stand on her own two feet!


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by Evan Ostryzniuk
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--~ Book Giveaway courtesy of tour ~--

Of Fathers and Sons:
Geoffrey Hotspur and the Este Inheritance
by Evan Ostryzniuk

WIN a copy of this book!

Open to US only.

Offer ends: June 9, 2013

TO DO: (2-parts)

1. ADD this book to your Goodreads Want To Read list.

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2. TELL me you did the deed in comments.
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Contest has ended - winner is here



* image source: medieval woman astrologer

* part of Of Fathers and Sons tour - check out the other stops for more details on this book and goodies sponsored by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

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