One of my writing persona, Susan Gourley, writes epic fantasy. There are lots of definitions of epic fantasy out there but most of them expect the story to be set in a medieval setting. Mine is. I love reading books in that setting, even historical fiction that isn't fantasy.
I recently finished reading John Marco's novel, The Forever Knight. His series of which this book is the fourth, is one of my favorites. I've read his other works also. They're all in fantasy lands in a medieval time period. The Forever Knight, like Marco's other books remind me to try and keep things real in my own books.
Life was really difficult in such a setting. No real doctors or medicine. The food was simple and often scarce. Most people we would term the nobility didn't care about the welfare of the peasants. Those poor people suffered from poor food, lack of housing and were often pressed into service to fight a war they couldn't care less about. In such wars, they were considered expendable. A noble might celebrate victory in a battle, but families would starve the following winter because their fields had been destroyed and their menfolk killed. There were no social or government agencies to help the masses. The place of women in such societies could be an entirely other discussion.
Fantasy worlds can be whatever the author wants them to be, but the way Marco presents an unsettling realism to the plight of regular folks draws me into his books. He shows the bitter side of battle victories and isn't afraid to show the emotional devastation of loss. I hope I convey such details in my books even half as thoroughly.
Do you enjoy medieval settings? Have you read books where the peasants were too happy? Have you read John Marco? What do you think would have caused the biggest hardship for the medieval peasant? After paying fall tuition for my two children in college I'm feeling a little like a peasant myself.