Just Finished Reading: 1356 by Bernard Cornwell (FP: 2012)
France, 1356. It’s the start of the new campaign season and Edward, the Black Prince, is marching across the country destroying everything in his path in the hope of forcing the French King to give battle. But memories of Crecy are still raw and the French army refuses to appear. Meanwhile Sir Thomas Hookton is given a special mission by his liege lord – to find a religious relic believed to give its owner power on the battlefield enough to make them invincible. The relic is a sword reputed to have been drawn by St Paul to defend the Messiah himself against the Romans who came for him on that fateful night so long ago. But the sword is also reputed to be cursed by God and a mortal danger to whoever wields it. No matter which story is true the English are determined to have it in their possession if only to deny it from the French. But the French authorities are hot on its trail led by a priest who plans to rise to the greatest of ranks – Pope. As the hunt continues the French King is convinced that now is the time to strike back at the hated English forces destroying the land – a Scottish lord has given him the secret of defeating them in battle and a fatal weakness in their massed archery has been discovered. If the relic can be obtained all three together might be enough to turn the tables and completely negate the feared longbow once and for all. The fate of two nations will be decided outside the walls of Poitiers.
I think it’s becoming redundant to say that a Cornwell book is a cracking read. I’ve now read more than enough of them to know exactly what I’m going to get: a great story, marvellous characters – both male and female, a strong side kick, a kickass female (or two), crackling dialogue, completely evil baddies, and wonderfully recounted (and often chaotic and bloody) battles. This novel had all of those in spades and then some. It even had (albeit briefly) an Irish side-kick for Thomas (read Richard Sharpe with a bow rather than a musket) which made me chuckle quite a lot.
I can see why Cornwell keeps returning to this era in English history. The 100 Years War is a large enough canvas with enough known about it but with enough detail missing that it’s like having a ready-made world minus the finishing touches. Plus the fact that the victories at Crecy, Agincourt and (to a much lesser extent) Poitiers are – or at least used to be – taught in every English classroom in the country as historic examples of our martial prowess (and it doesn’t do any hard at all that they were at the expense of the French who – somewhat surprisingly – a significant number of people in this country have a real dislike for. Needless to say that I enjoyed this a great deal I don’t believe that Cornwell has ever let me down in the entertaining read department and I should think, from experience, that he never will. I’ve probably got at least 5-6 more of his books buried in various piles and I need to dig them out. Definitely more Cornwell, in all his guises, to come. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the period or who just want a cracking tale well told.
Coming Next in Fiction: 10 Books made into Movies – which extra special guests 10 Non-Fiction Books also made into Movies.