1356 by Bernard Cornwell

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1356 by Bernard Cornwell

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Sir Thomas Hookton is back, starring in a rollicking adventure across France, leading to the Battle of Poitiers. Heroes, villains, a race to a relic, an edge-of-the-seat battle… Who'd say no to that?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: September 2012
Publisher: HarperCollins
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0007331840

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Sir Thomas Hookton, aka Le Batard (a French word that's very similar in English, if you see what I mean) roams France with his band of mercenaries, acquiring plundered riches and selling their services in the war against the French. However, Thomas' liege, Lord William Bohun, Earl of Northampton, disrupts the combative equilibrium when demands a diversion. Monks are spreading stories about 'La Malice', (the sword with which St Peter defended Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane) and with it the power to bless or curse the owner, depending who you listen to. So Lord 'Billy' wants it and La Batard must find it. Meanwhile, Sir Thomas has competition as unsavoury elements in the church create a special order of knights. They mean to find it first, by foul means or even fouler.

The master of historic fiction writing is back and so is the dashing Sir Thomas, the hero of Bernard Cornwell's Grail Quest trilogy (Harlequin, Vagabond and Heretic). How has Sir Tom fared since last we saw him? Fans will be pleased to hear that our hero and his followers are on form. As before, members are added to his multi-national Hellequin ('devil's beloved') as he journeys. This time we're treated to the arrival of the honest monk (apparently not as common as you’d hope) Brother Michael and Keane, a silver-tongued Irishman. On a personal level, Thomas is still with his beloved Guinevere whom he rescued from a heretic's death last time out.

Where characterisation is concerned, the author mixes things up a little. People like Thomas, Keane and Michael are a real joy but it has also been said that books in which Sir Tom features lean towards two-dimensional action heroes. That's up for dispute but the baddies are definitely pantomimingly evil (particularly Marchant and his truth divining falcon). However, if any of this is a worry, you needn't fear as it doesn't matter. You really don't notice as the novel unfolds like excellent theatre so you'll be too busy watching the action and living the pacey (excellently researched) moments.

Talking of moments, if you were even mildly miffed about the lack of full-on battle scenes in Heretic, 1356 makes up for it, culminating (as the date suggests) in the Battle of Poitiers. This means that, for those readers who have just discovered Bernard Cornwell, you're in for a treat: battle scenes are one of his specialities. He uses an absorbingly journalistic style, excluding neither those who only have a vague interest in the conflicts nor the squeamish. (There is a bit of blood, as you'd expect, but it's not dwelt on in huge detail.) At the author's fingertips, Poitiers comes to life as possible outcomes pivot on strategic skill and luck. In fact, if you don't know whether England or France won, don't look it up before reading the novel as ignorance is indeed bliss, adding a whole new dimension to the experience.

As well as the fighting being relayed down the centuries in a moment by moment commentary, the narrative is seasoned with mid-grabbing detail. For instance, we come to realise why the English and Welsh longbow archers were the machine gunners of their era.

1356 is a self-contained, stand-alone novel which is good and bad. Good in that you read it without having read of Sir Thomas' previous exploits (but bet you will afterwards) and bad as there doesn't seem to be an opening for a 'Holy Sword Quest' trilogy either. But there's still mileage (and a lot of fight) in Sir Thomas et al yet so can we look forward to girding our loins for another Le Batard adventure in the future? I hope so. Nothing has been said, but perhaps if we all ask nicely…?

A special thank you to Harper Collins for sending us a copy of this book for review.

If you've enjoyed this and are ready for another historic adventure, we can suggest Hawk Quest by Robert Lyndon, Sworn Sword by James Aitcheson or Blood Forest by Geraint Jones.

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Buy 1356 by Bernard Cornwell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy 1356 by Bernard Cornwell at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy 1356 by Bernard Cornwell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy 1356 by Bernard Cornwell at Amazon.com.


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