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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Bilson

Castle Builders by Malcolm Hislop

If you don’t know a corbel from a buttress or a joist from a soffit, then this might not be the book for you. I spent an awful lot of reading time Googling construction terms to try and figure out exactly what the book was describing. There’s a glossary at the end of the book, but it’s description only and frankly, images should have been included, not just in the glossary but throughout the book on the first occasion of the term being used. There are plenty of images and illustrations, so it’s not that they couldn’t have been included, but more that the author seemed to assume his readers would already be familiar with the construction terms.

I’m actually interested in this topic as I’m currently writing a book set in the medieval era in which one of the protagonists seeks to make himself useful by suggesting improvements to a castle’s fortifications, and honestly, I struggled to stay awake a lot of the time reading it. There’s just too much dry description of things that would be much better shown in illustration (labelled illustrations, so we can SEE what these terms mean!). We didn’t get enough of the why’s of how the architecture developed and what it was used for.

I don’t understand who this book is aimed at. It’s not presented in an accessible enough way to have mainstream appeal to someone like me, an author of historical fiction looking to add authenticity to their work, and it’s not scholarly enough to appeal to academics. Architects interested in history, maybe? I wanted the information but honestly struggled to extract it in any meaningful way. As far as I can tell, the information is accurate and top-notch research, but the failure to present it in a way that is accessible to the average layperson with an interest in the topic means I can only give it two stars.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.

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