Authors: Mary Gentle
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy
‘Mary Gentle’s skill is such that she makes the miraculous seem totally plausible. A master of atmosphere and texture, her bravura portrayal of a Europe under pseudo-nuclear winter remains vivid long afterwards.’
‘There are other writers who deal in people in our world coming into contact with other worlds, but I’ve yet to read any novel where the collision is handled as intelligently and subtly as it is here.’
‘Gentle is a fine writer … her characterisation of Ash is superb.’ Waterstones
‘Mary Gentle’s earlier work, including
Rats and Gargoyles
and their sequels, was much applauded.
puts them in the shade… In its subversion of what we understand by history, and reality based on history, this huge work truly is a masterpiece.’
works. There is much more to talk about: the brilliance of the conversations and debates; the astonishing clamour of combat; the roundedness of almost every character in the vast tale.’ John Clute
‘When Mary Gentle is good, she’s very good indeed – and this may well be her best book to date.’
Science Fiction World
‘There is a real sense in which
is the culmination of Gentle’s work so far; it has the elegiac tone of the
books, the urban complexity of the
books and their intellectual prickliness; it has the thuggery of
but this time played for real and not for laughs. It also has some of the most complex and attractive characters of modern fantasy.’ Roz Kaveney,
‘The book is an elegantly written
tour de force
by someone who knows their history and isn’t afraid to mess with it.’
‘I won’t insult the author by trying to bullet-point a masterpiece, because masterpiece it is. A wealth of emotion, all written in tough, vigorous language … this is a book that will keep the author’s name alive indefinitely.’
‘Quite apart from Gentle’s sly games with the stodginess of accepted scholarship,
Ash: A Secret History
is also a wickedly good adventure story. Gentle understands both the movement of politics across nations, and the motivations of seemingly insignificant people, and she makes her reader feel both. Her battles are as simultaneously glorious and horribly sordid as real battles must have been… It’s almost literally a stunning book.’
‘There have been many books about mediaeval battles, many more about how physical and emotional love are so compelling and interdependent, many feminist warrior fantasies, and much hard science fiction that culminates in transcendence, but only here are all these facets combined so precisely and satisfyingly. It would be a shame for anyone to miss this book.’
Also by Mary Gentle in Gollancz
Orthe: Chronicles of Carrick V
1610: A Sundial in a Grave
Copyright © Mary Gentle 1999
All rights reserved
The right of Mary Gentle to be identified as the author
of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
This edition published in Great Britain in 2001 by
An imprint of the Orion Publishing Group
Orion House, 5 Upper St Martin’s Lane, London WC2H 9EA
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available
from the British Library
ISBN 1 85798 744 6
Printed in Great Britain by
Clays Ltd, St Ives plc
NOTE: This excerpt from
Antiquarian Media Monthly,
Vol. 2, No. 7, July 2006, is original, glued on to the blank frontispiece page of this copy.
I make no apology for presenting a new translation of these documents which are our only contact with the life of that extraordinary woman, Ash (b.1457[?]–d.1477). One has long been needed.
Charles Mallory Maximillian’s 1890 edition,
Ash: The Life of a Female Mediaeval Mercenary Captain,
begins with a translation from the mediaeval Latin into serviceable Victorian prose, but he admits that he leaves out some of the more explicit episodes; as does Vaughan Davies in his 1939 collection,
Ash: A Fifteenth Century Biography.
The ‘Ash’ documents badly need a colloquial and complete translation for the new millennium, and one which does not shrink from the brutality of the mediaeval period, as well as its joyfulness. I hope that I have provided one here.
Women have always accompanied armies. Examples of their taking part in actual combat are far too numerous to quote. In
1476, it is only two generations since Joan of Arc led the Dauphin’s forces in France: one can imagine the grandparents of Ash’s soldiers telling war stories about this. To find a mediaeval peasant woman in command, however, without the backing of church or state – and in command of mercenary troops – is almost unique.
The high glory of mediaeval life and the explosive revolution of the Renaissance meet in this Europe of the second half of the fifteenth century. Wars are endemic – in the Italian city states, in France, Burgundy, Spain and The Germanies, and in England between warring royal houses. Europe itself is in a state of terror over the eastern threat of the Turkish Empire. It is an age of armies, which will grow, and of mercenary companies, which will pass away with the coming of the Early Modern period.
Much is uncertain about Ash, including the year and place of her birth. Several fifteenth and sixteenth century documents claim to be
of Ash, and I shall be referring to them later, together with those new discoveries which I have made in the course of my research.