The Hippo


May 31, 2020








E.C. Ambrose debuts Elisha Daemon 

When: Tuesday, Feb. 6, 5:30 p.m. 
Where: Gibson’s Bookstore, 45 S. Main St., Concord 
More info:
Other appearances
Saturday, Feb. 10, at The Toadstool Bookshop in Milford 
Saturday, March 3, at the Milford Farmers Market 

Medieval mayhem
E.C. Ambrose completes The Dark Apostle series

By Angie Sykeny

 Nashua author Elaine Isaak, better known by her pen name E.C. Ambrose, first started researching medieval surgery for a scene in one of her stories. The more she learned about it, the more fascinated with it she became, and after reading five or six books on the subject, she realized it had more potential than for just a single scene. 

“I like my protagonists to be pushed to their limit, and [medieval surgery] is very high stakes,” she said. “Back then, they lacked the anesthetics and antiseptics and understanding of how the body works to confront the things they were dealing with and do what needed to be done to save people.” 
In 2014, she released Elisha Barber, the first book in her historical fantasy series, The Dark Apostle. Set in a magical reimagining of 14th-century England, the series follows Elisha Barber, a barber-surgeon with a dark supernatural ability. 
“He has a special relationship with death,” Ambrose said. “He stands on the border between life and death, and that intimate knowledge gives him power over that border land.” 
Ambrose will debut the fifth and final book in the series, Elisha Daemon, at an event at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord on Tuesday, Feb. 6. In the book, Elisha, who has gone from barber-surgeon to powerful sorcerer, struggles to save England from a deadly plague unleashed by an evil cult of sorcerers who draw their power from people’s fear. 
With the exception of some tweaks to the British royalty timeline, the series is largely historically accurate. 
“It definitely evokes the feeling of that period,” Ambrose said. “People [in the books] react to the idea of magic and believe in it in the way that they really did at that time, and there are many magical origins and things that were possibilities behind real world events.” 
The series is not for the faint of heart, Ambrose said; the subject matter is dark, scenes often end with the characters in deeper peril than they were in before, and she has “a habit of killing off characters” unexpectedly, but the grim nature of the series helps Ambrose propel the message she hopes to convey. 
“Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s moving on in spite of your fear. Everything worth doing is going to be hard,” she said. “That’s the deeper theme throughout the books and something that I personally believe in.” 
While working on the series, Ambrose had some unique sources of inspiration. She would often listen to music that got her “in the mood” to write about the medieval time period. For her last book, it was the British medieval a cappella group Mediaeval Baebes. She would visit flea markets to add to her collection of tools that resemble medieval surgical tools, which she typically brings to her book events. At some events, she even dons medieval garb. 
“I like this hands-on approach to learning about that culture. I like to interact with physical elements,” Ambrose said. “It helps enrich the fantasy world for my readers, and it helps me to invest fully in that world.” 
Completing the series is “exciting, but bittersweet,” she said, and she still finds herself drawn to material related to medieval medicine before remembering that she no longer needs to research the topic for her books. 
“I’ve been living with this character for years,” Ambrose said. “It’s hard to stop playing with the toys that you’ve been playing with for so long.” 
She’s going in a very different direction with her current project, a young adult novel about giant robots exploring space. 
“It’s a little strange creating headspace for these new characters,” she said, “but I think it’s good to have a project that’s so different to get me out of my comfort zone.”

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