I received an audiobook copy of The Errant Hours for the purpose of this review, although all opinions are my own. This post also contains some affiliate links. This means that if you decide to click on a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you, that helps me keep the blog going. Thank you for your support.
Imagine you could download a long meditation tape that puts you, in your mind, back in Medieval England and Wales, with all the senses, smells and sights that go with it, that you could access whenever you wanted. You get bonfires burning, the sound of sandals slapping on church tiles and the musky smell of a cook that's been working long hours in a hot Medieval kitchen.
Think about that, and you might get an idea of what listening to Kate Innes' book The Errant Hours is like.
After a quick chat with the author on Twitter, she invited me to download an Audible version of the book to review, although it's also available in paperback format.
Honestly, I've had a bit of a bumpy ride in the past with audiobooks. I found them useful in the past, for plugging in my headphones and listening to while out walking the dogs, washing up after dinner or especially those three whole days I spent upstairs decorating the kids' bedrooms, spattered with paint and fuelled with endless cups of coffee. I could absorb a book or two in the space of a week while doing other tasks, and I loved it. But I found I started to miss bits, was easily distracted or had unconsciously wandered from a chapter to think about what to cook for dinner. So I downloaded The Errant Hours with excitement because the story sounded interesting, but also with the lingering feeling that audio books maybe weren't really for me.
Well, was I in for a shock.
The story hooks you in right from the beginning. From the first sentence my mind was immediately lit up with the smells, sights and sounds of late thirteenth-century Medieval England and Wales, set in the time of Edward I.
So often in historical fiction you find characters that are too caricature-like to be believed - maybe just not rounded out enough or lazily created to fit a particular well-run dynamic, like the simpering princess, or a tipsy monk. Here, I found the characters not only completely believable and original but represented in all their HD glory - sweat glistening on a brow, bad breath and watery eyes welled up with tears. You go on a journey with the protagonist, a character called Illesa Arrowsmith, through a dramatic escape (actually quite a few of those), a trek across countryside with villains lurking, through forests, towns, a Medieval fair and churches. And you meet everyone she comes into contact with - from a humble blacksmith, to the royal family itself, with many others along the way. You really get the feeling that each character has their own solid backstory and aren't just there to signpost the main character through theirs. By the end of the book, I felt as if I had really met them all myself.
Onto the story itself. There's adventure, danger, secrecy, awkwardness, disaster, sexual tension, tragedy and fun. We're also treated to flashbacks from a different time that add context and background, which I loved, too. Without giving too much away the character of Gaspar adds hilarious comedy to the otherwise fairly serious plot - he'll make you smile, so do look out for him. Everything - from the language, times of day, foods eaten - even swear-words - are historically accurate. The plot too, is woven around real life events, with people that really existed.
There's the wealthy Robert Burnel (Chancellor and Bishop of Bath and Wells) and Richard, his nephew, who lived in Acton Burnel. Edward I and his family. The author has taken what we know about all of these characters historically and woven them so fully into the story, along with lifestyle aspects like religion, burials, sainthood, clothing, entertainment and legend - and also highlights in particular the different roles that women fulfilled during Medieval times. If you like accuracy in your historical fiction, you'll enjoy the chapter at the end of the book highlighting how the story fits with the historical record.
As a Medieval history fan I honestly loved it. And instead of listening while doing housework, I'd find myself looking forward to getting the washing up done so I could sit quietly with the audiobook on through my headphones in the evenings. I wanted to give this story - and its real historical richness - all my attention. I've read dozens of historical fiction books and have found very few that really evoked the spirit and atmosphere of the time, but this definitely does. I'm already about to read the sequel and second Arrowsmith book in the series, All The Winding Road so look out for a review of that when I'm finished.
If you're a fan of Medieval history and wish you could time travel to see what it was really like, this book is definitely for you. I bet you'll love it.
Have you read or listened to the Arrowsmith books? Let me know what you thought in the comments below...
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