Part 45 - Book Review, Part II
by Lord Thomas the Black
Book Review, Pt II
Welcome back to another edition of Blackmaille!
Last month, we reviewed some of the e-books available to new maillers. This month, the mailman dropped off my package from Amazon.com, so I thought we’d discuss some of the hardcopy books out there for maillers to work from.
In these reviews, I’ll endeavor to not only review the book itself, but also look into the ordering process a little, including where the book is available, and for how much.
“The Art of Mail Armor: How to Make Your Own” by Mary Brewer
Available from Amazon.com and Paladin Press.com. Price varies from $29.46 (Amazon) to $49.95 (Paladin).
“The Art of Mail Armor” comes with a foreword from Brian Price (author of “Techniques of Medieval Armor Reproduction”), so that was a point in its favor from the start, even before I’d ordered it. Working against it, however, is an article on the Paladin Press website wherein author Mary Brewer is described as “Almost single-handedly reviving the dying art of making mail armor.” This was written in 2002, so it rubbed me the wrong way for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it discredits the contributions of the entire mailling community, as well as re-enactment organizations like the Society for Creative Anachronism (of which I’m a member).
That being said, this book and “Chain Mail Armored Knight” by Claude Lamontagne (reviewed below) were the first two books ordered, and were ordered with a credit card through Amazon.com, and yet, this was the second to last of these books to arrive, taking two months to get here. No explanation was offered for the delay. It turns out (according to the dust jacket) that Ms. Brewer IS a member of the SCA, as well as Amtgard (a live-action role-playing organization).
“The Art of Mail Armor” has its good and bad points. First the good: It comes hardcover-bound with a dust jacket. Several options are given for most tasks, such as coiling, cutting, etc. The entire book is profusely illustrated throughout. Ms Brewer includes several detailed patterns for cross inlays, which turn out to be a mixed blessing, as all of these patterns have the maille weave turned 90 degrees from the way it should hang.
This, in fact, is one of my biggest gripes with this book: ALL of the maille is shown 90 degrees off. This is understandable when weaving maille, as it’s easier to construct this way, but no mention is made that this needs to be turned on its side before assembling into a finished project. The photos of finished items all show maille hung the right way, but the photos of the maille itself are all wrong. The closures in a lot of the photos needed work. I can’t stress this enough, folks: if you’re writing a book on maille, make sure your closures look good, as this will be the example you set for new mailers! In fact, not only do the closures need work, but in the instructions, there’s only a cursory mention of how to close rings, with no pictures of what constitutes a “good” closure. All of the instructions would have benefited from color photos, as the grey-scale drawings were a little difficult to figure out at times. In the chapter covering Japanese maille (or as the book puts it, “Additional Types of Mail”), Ms Brewer gives the wrong names for the Japanese Patterns (using a European nomenclature), and refers to the Byzantine weaves as “Chinese”. Speaking of the Byzantine weaves, her instructions for these patterns don’t make any sense at all. I was unable to make either the box chain or the Byzantine chain using her instructions. Finally, the instructions/patterns for armor are somewhat limited (hauberk and coif only) for a book called “The Art of Mail Armor” , but there’s lots of fantasy/fashion/LARP pieces included.
Overall, this book is ok as a companion guide to another book, or to one-on-one teaching, but by itself, not so much. There’s a lot of misleading information here, the instructions can be vague in places and downright confusing in others, and finally, it’s expensive! For the price of this book through Paladin Press, you could buy Dylon Whyte’s “The Art of Chainmail” AND a spool of wire to start with!
* * out of 5 stars
“Chain Mail Armored Knight” by Claude Lamontagne
Available from Amazon.com for $11.67
I really wanted to review this book, as it got good reviews on Amazon.com, and looked like a really good resource for kids interested in maille. It was spiral-bound, so it lays flat, and it even comes with a zipper bag of coils, so beginning maillers can jump right into the craft as soon as they open the book!
Unfortunately, despite being ordered at the same time as the Brewer volume, this book never came. Amazon.com kept putting off my order, delaying two weeks at a time for six months, with each new delay becoming increasingly frustrating. Finally, after being unable to find this book through either Barnes & Noble or Borders, I was forced to admit defeat. With my deadline for this article looming, I checked the website, discovering that this book was no longer available. Hmm! I wonder when (if) they were planning to tell me this? Needless to say, I cancelled my order.
In light of my recent problems with them, I have to strongly recommend NOT ordering books from Amazon.com, as you may or may not ever get what you paid for. If you can't find it at either Barnes & Noble or Borders (or their subsidiaries, B. Dalton and Waldenbooks, respectively) or if they can't order it, then it's just not that important. There are better places to find the same information online (see Blackmaille #19).
0 out of 5 stars
“The Art of Chainmail” by Dylon Whyte
Advertised on artofchainmail.com, but available from Spiderchain Jewelry (among others) for around $29.95.
Even before this book arrived, it had a huge black mark against it. Although it’s advertised on the Kusari Kahn’s Lair website, it’s not actually possible to order it from there! I had to go to another site (Spiderchain Jewelry) to order it. After going through their order process, a pop-up window informed me that Spiderchain doesn’t have a “buy now” button for orders. I had to print off the order confirmation and mail it in via snail-mail with a money order. All told, the process took around 25 minutes, not including buying the money order and the trip to the post office. Most inconvenient. It seems to me that if you want to sell books, you should make the process a little easier for your customers.
That being said, all these books were ordered around the same time, and this was the first to arrive. The book itself is wide and spiral-bound, so it sits flat on the workbench without getting in the way of projects. This volume covers the European patterns, with over half the book dealing with 4-in-1 and the variations thereof. It also covers king’s maille, 6-in-1, 8-in-1, boxchain, and roundmaille (though Whyte calls it tetrahedron link). The last chapter of the book is a brief history of armor, which while very abbreviated, is a good starting point for beginner armorers. The book is profusely illustrated throughout, with historical info given for each weave, and the pictures are clear and easy to understand, and the instructions are easy-to-follow and well-written. However, this book was a little bit thin to justify the $30.00 price tag.
The cover for this book says “Vol. 1”, and elsewhere it implies that this is the first in a series of mailling books being written by this author, but the last copyright date is 2002. One would think that five years would be enough to come out with Vol. 2. Still, overall this is a good book for beginners, though experienced maillers probably won’t find anything new in it.
* * * * out of 5 stars
“Knitting Steel: A Guide for the Contemporary Maille Craftsman” by Patrick Sain
Available from armoredillo.com for $20.00 plus shipping.
As with the Dylon Whyte book above, the ordering process could have been a lot easier. Granted, part of it was the fact that I didn’t have (or trust) a Paypal account, but even with that, there was no address on the site to send a check or money order, even though these were listed as accepted payment methods. I had to send an email asking what the total with shipping would be to my address, and asking for an address of theirs I could send a money order to. It took them just over a week to reply before I could send the order out.
That being said, however, Patrick Sain is a major contributor to the Maille Artisans website, the Chainmaille board (http://www.chainmailleboard.com), and the Armour Archive (http://forums.armourarchive.org/phpBB2), and is an authority on modern maille craftsmanship. The book comes spiral bound, which allows the book to lay flat on the workbench. This was the second book to arrive, coming only two weeks after being ordered. The photos are in black-and-white, but are clear and easy to understand. The book has a strong emphasis on safety while mailling, which is good, and even has two pages of inlay graph paper that can be photocopied for use. There’s even a page on care and maintenance of your maille!
On the negative side, “Knitting Steel” has nothing on the history of maille, preferring to focus on modern uses. There’s a large section on project how-to’s, but not as much as there probably should be on the fundamentals of mailling. Some of the illustrations were taken from a website I’ve seen before (but which may no longer be active, as I can’t seem to locate it now), but are easier to follow in the original color, rather than the black-and-white they’re in here. Some of the closures in the photos need some serious work. They look like the author was rushing to get the piece together to get the photo. Next time, take your time and get some good pics.
Overall, this is not a bad addition to a mailler’s library. I wouldn’t let it stand on its own, but as a companion to other books out there, you could do worse. Future editions could use more fundamentals, and a section on history, and should use color pictures for the how-to photos, and save the black-and-white for the project pics, instead of the other way around.
* * * out of 5 stars
This is just a sample of the resources available to modern-day maillers. For more, see my articles “Internet Resources” and “A Mailler’s Bibliography”. The long and the short of it is, there’s a lot of information out there for maillers to wade through. Any of these books, regardless of their rating, would be a good addition to a mailler’s workshop bookshelf. The more research a modern mailler does, the better their product will be in the end.
Just don't order them from Amazon.com!
Thanks for joining us for another month! As usual, any hate mail, fan mail, questions and comments can (and should) be sent to:
c/o Tom Beckett
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