It probably comes as no suprise to anyone who saw Bernard Cornwell's glowing comments on the front of Juliet Barker's excellent history book 'Agincourt', that Cornwell turned his attention Henry V's famous, almost miraculous, victory over the French. The problem is how to make such an extraordinarily well known story - thanks to Shakespeare and numerous histories - seem fresh and exciting. Thankfully, we are in the hands of a master at this sort of thing.
His story of Nick Hook, an English longbowman, does more than simply tick the expected boxes. It successfully puts the victory at Agincourt into perspective both politically and socially. It does so by bringing us firmly into the lives of the people. These people realised as properly medieval men and women. Cornwell scores over so many of his competitors by convincing us that these are not simply modern men in fancy dress. Faith in Christianity, for example, and the battle between the heretical Lollard beliefs, common in England at the time, and the Church are woven into the fabric of the story. It will come as no suprise that the battle scenes are strongly and convincingly portrayed.
I always hesitate before giving a five star review, but this is certainly worth it.
on 9 February 2009
I bought this book abroad recently while nursing a winter-sports injury and couldn't put it down. It is excellent dramatised history, bringing the reader right into the campaign and battle and the minds of the people who were there. As an ex-soldier I immediately identified with the way he conveys soldiers' thoughts and reactions when they face unpleasant realities. It has sparked a great interest to know more about Agincourt (I have bought Juliet Barker's book on the battle), and about Henry V's real reasons for undertaking this risky business. Highly recommended.
on 26 March 2013
I have read The Grail Quest series, The first two books of the Starbucks Chronicles, The Winter King, Stonehenge, Gallows Thief and the Saxon series. Bernard Cornwell is master of historical fiction and provides a crackling good read, as well as being a must for enthusiasts of military history and war gamers.
Cornwell tells the story of an archer in the English army, Nicholas Hook, from a common background, having fled England as an outlaw, and haunted by his failing of having rescued a Lollard girl. Sarah, who is burned to death during Henry V's mass burning of the Lollard religious dissidents.
Cornwell recounts the sieges of Harfleur and Soissons, where Nick rescues a beautiful young nun from being raped and murdered. The horror of the mass murder at Soissons of both English archers and the murder French civilians, is graphically recounted her by an author who knows how to bring the re-inaction historical atrocities to vivid life. His enmity with the evil sir Martin and the Perrill brothers, his love of the beautiful Melisande, the camaraderie with fellow archers and a kindly monk, Father Christopher are all well illustrated as are lots of action and suspense. A nuanced portrayal of Henry V and above all Nick's communication with Saint Crispinian and Saint Crispin , who speak to him and guide him are central features of a crackling good read, and well studied historical recreation of the invasion of France by Henry and its finale in the Battle of Agincourt where 9 000 English archers and soldiers beat a 30 000 strong French army. Cornwell is certainly a master of historical fiction.
AZINCOURT - Bernard Cornwell 2008
Firstly, I have always liked Mr Cornwell's stories and writing style and have faithfully collected each of his new books as published after receiving Sharpe's Gold as a gift in 1981. I really enjoyed this book, my long awaited copy arrived in 2008 whilst I was in hospital and as I was unable to read for several months, a situation far worse than my actual malady, got into my study and was overlooked until just recently.
I had thoroughly enjoyed the GRAIL QUEST trilogy, HARLEQUIN, VAGABOND and HERETIC, also set during the Hundred Years War but some 75 years earlier and Azincourt is very obviously intended to finish off the story that was started in the earlier novels. Thankfully, Mr Cornwell resisted the temptation to make his hero the son or grandson of Thomas of Hookton, although the characters have many similarities even down to the name Nicholas Hook.
A précis of the tale has been the subject of many other reviews and so I will not repeat it here, except to say that as usual Cornwell's novel is full of action and does not pull punches when describing the cruelty and carnage of medieval warfare or the duplicity and naked political greed of the Christian church at that time. As usual Mr Cornwell's research gives the story a believable grounding in historical fact and he acknowledges that much of this taken from Juliet Barker's excellent book, AGINCOURT, THE KING, THE CAMPAIGN, THE BATTLE pub.2005 probably the best and most readable academic work on the subject for some years.
Another top rate novel from Bernard Cornwell, packed with action, believable characters and historic personalities and a good story line woven around historical events.
on 10 October 2008
I've been a fan of Cornwell's for some years now and have read everything he's done, in the past I have found his one off story's lack the sheer brilliance of his books that are part of a series. Azincourt however is, in my opinion, the best novel Cornwell has as yet produced, it's simply awsome. There are some aspects here that just shouldn't work (mainly the bits with God and the Saints) but Mr C pulls it off without leaving the reader thinking 'yeah right like that'd happen'.
I read this in 2 days flat, it's the very best book I have read in a long time, I implore you to buy this book, you will not be disappointed.
on 13 October 2008
The heaps of praise this outstanding novel is getting here (with sales to match, I understand) is thoroughly deserved. I have no wish to repeat the plaudits and plot descriptions already offered, but thought it worth sharing my opinion that this is the best work Bernard Cornwell has produced since his utterly engrossing Arthurian trilogy "The Warlord Chronicles" which appeared well over a decade ago.
What made those three books so captivating was the reimagining of an enchanted legend and the placement of that legend into both a historical context and into an atmosphere which seemed convincingly realistic. Plus, of course, an unputdownable narrative momentum, a Cornwell trademark.
Given the greater amount of recorded historical detail available to Cornwell here, a reimagining is less necessary. So, the author focuses on putting the reader right into the heart of the action, the fears, smells, sounds, prejudices, superstitions, heroism and malevolence of an age in which we should all be glad we didn't live. With the exception of the obligatory malevolent monk (Sir Martin, who's complete lack of any single redeeming feature makes him somewhat cartoonish to my mind) all the characters are well fleshed out and their motivations and actions seem believable and authentic.
Finally, the spiritual part of the novel, Nicholas Hook's "relationship" with Saints Crispin and Crispinian, is beautifully handled and makes deft use of a historical coincidence I was unaware of. In fact, Christianity per se is handled very well in this story - given the historical setting, there's simply no avoiding it. However, where one may have left "The Warlord Chronicles" or even Cornwell's ongoing retelling of King Alfred's history with the impression that the author really has very little time for Chrisianity, I left this one with a more refined view. He simply doesn't like hypocritical self serving "Christians" very much.
Even this atheist can say a committed "Amen" to that.
I'm quite a fan of historical fiction. It brings history to life in a way text books never quite manage and often set the reader up for further research into a historical event or era.
Cornwell's book is no different. I didn't know much about Henry V or Azincourt. A fascinating event in English history.
Cornwell takes a very unusual 'religious' angle in this novel with his key characters.
Nick Hook, the archer around whom the story revolves, who hears from Saints. Henry V, who believes God is on his side, the French who believe the same. The corrupt priest who's pleasure is to rape and steal, the virtuous priest, all skillfully interwoven into a fascinating tale.
Be warned, within the first few pages there is an attempted murder, a rape, and brutal hangings. It doesn't stop there...definitely and adult story, but brilliant none the less.
is roughly what the Duke of Orleans wrote who spend 25 years in English capitity after the battle of Azincourt. And I am happy that Bernard Cornwell put at the end of his book. Wars and its heros - for whatever reasons - are the least to prized as war is about killing and misery.
But this book is not a praise of war and war heros. It shows the reality of battle and death. While viewing the story mainly from the perspective an an English archer it is not unbalanced and the French views are shown as well. And how very similar these views were.
It is very well told story, engaging and fast running. One gets hooked with page one. It is a fantastic re-creation of the late medival world. Bernhard Cornwell has great talent for story telling and I believe he gets better and better. It is a great book and a great story.
on 19 June 2009
Just a quick one as enough has been said really, but as I have just finished the book....
I enjoyed the novel, I found few historical inaccuracies because when you do the research there are a number of different opinions, eye witness accounts etc and I think BC has taken a view and included the most likely version of events and let's remember this is a novel not a reference book.I agree that the characters lack depth and to a degree it is a pretty formulaic book: Out law maverick saves beautiful girl, a couple of likeable sidekicks a couple of nasty enemies, as seen in Sharpe and others but it has obviously worked for Mr Cornwell over the years. It's a good enough read but at the end I didn't really care enough about what happened to the characters.
on 13 October 2008
First things first: this is probably the best book Bernard Cornwell has written in the past 5 years. Its greatest strength, but also its one weakness is that is effectively the 4th book in the Grail Quest series. To all extents and purposes the new hero Nicholas Hook is just Thomas of Hookton mark two (in fact Thomas of Hookton even gets a one line mention). You'd be hard pressed to distinguish the two and even the supporting cast are virtually identical. Nicholas is accompanied by a french girlfriend who's the daughter of a French knight and a friendly and most ungodly priest. So far, so Harlequin.
HOWEVER the reason people buy Bernard Cornwell's books isn't for the great characterisation or original plots- its for the battle scenes. Frankly no-one describes french men at arms being hacked apart with pole-axes and decimated by arrows in quite the way that Cornwell does and in this Azincourt excels. There's a shameless enjoyment to reading about any battle described by Cornwell and surely Azincourt was the ultimate battle, so he can really let rip on this one.
For me the historical notes at the back of the book are often the best bit of this sort of book. They put the novels into context, add in some detail and give Bernard Cornwell a chance to air his personal feelings. Again he excels in the back pages of this novel, making some very convincing counter arguments to some of the recent revisionist histories of Azincourt. Cornwell knows his history and makes solid assumptions when the 'truth' is less clear.
All Cornwell fans need this book on their shelf.