Thursday, March 30, 2006

In Which a Historical Error Repeats Itself

In my latest "What We're Reading" column for NoveList, a readers' advisory database for public and school libraries, one of the novels I highlighted was Fiona Avery's The Crown Rose. It's a historical fantasy novel about Isabelle, Princess of France, the younger sister of Louis IX who was later canonized (as was he). I won't give a formal review here since the column won't be out until June, other than to say that for "What We're Reading," I only cover novels that I enjoy. But you can read the description and reviews on Amazon.

You can also read more about St. Isabelle at the public domain Catholic Encyclopedia, although since Crown Rose is a historical fantasy, the novel diverges from her actual life story in unique ways.

The dust jacket copy begins as follows: "The Crown Rose tells the story of Isabelle of France, born heir to the throne: her life from childhood to her later years; a life of turmoil and strife and longing...."

Right away, I wondered if whoever wrote this blurb read the book, or even showed the blurb to the author in advance of publication, because it makes you wonder if the author knows anything about French history. Isabelle was not born heir to the throne; in 1240, when the novel begins, she not only has two older brothers, Robert and Alphonse, in addition to King Louis, but she also has a younger brother, Charles. And if I'm not mistaken, the Salic law was operating during that time, as it did for most of French history, so women could not inherit at all.

Anyway, it's not the author's mistake, and this is clear after you read the book. But nonetheless, on Amazon you'll find reviews in Publishers Weekly, the Midwest Book Review, and from Klausner repeating the same "heir to the throne" bit. Curious.


  1. It's a pity that the blurb seems to have let the book down; I could imagine that it might put off readers who care about historical accuracy. Is this common, do you think? I very often find that blurbs play up the 'romance' element of historical fiction out of all proportion to the actual content of the book, and this has put me off some very good authors for years. (I've learned now to disregard the blurb and look for the Author's Note instead).

  2. *deep sigh* - Sheesh, you'd think people would check these things. Can't imagine how someone could make such a stupid mistake, nor how it could be perpetuated. Apparently, there's no copy editing done on jacket covers?

  3. I wonder if it was a mistake? Jacket copy is marketing, and I wonder if someone decided that 'heir to the throne' might attract more readers? Anyone know if this ever happens?

  4. Carla, I suspect you're right - someone in marketing thought it sounded more compelling that way. Some authors get the chance to write their own jacket copy, but I don't think most of them get to read it, even, before it appears on the book. I just checked and am glad that the HNS review didn't perpetuate the error!

    I had something similar (though not nearly as major) happen with my latest book - the blurb made it look like I had more responsibility in HNS than I did at that time. Fortunately I found it on the website and caught it before it made it into the print catalog.

  5. I guarantee that the error about Isabell being "heir to the throne" has nothing to do with the author and everything to do with marketing. If you're lucky, sometimes you are consulted about what's going on your book. Sometimes it comes as a delightful shock -- er, surprise when you get your author's copies.

    But since an amazing number of people think books are dropped fully-formed out of the sky by migrating writer-birds, it's usually the author who gets blamed for everything: flap copy, cover, ads. One romance writer tells the story of being on a plane and noticing that the woman sitting next to her was reading a book by the writer's friend. "Oh," said the romance writer, "I see you're reading X. How do you like it?" Whereupon the woman reading the book said, "Boy, I guess anyone can get published these days." "Oh?" "Yes. This author is so dumb she didn't even get the hair colors right on the cover."

    What can you say after you've said "Arrrrrggghhhhh...."?