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1356
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95 of 98 people found the following review helpful
After a long gap, author Bernard Cornwell re-introduces us to the characters from his "grail Quest" trilogy.

As the title suggests, this is set in 1356 during the Hundred Years War when the English had the upper hand in France. Archer Thomas Hookton, leader of a bunch of English aligned mercenaries (including a number of the deadly English archers) is given a mission to recover a holy relic which may give considerable power to whoever has it. Dodgy churchmen are also after it so Thomas and his men are involved in a game of cat and mouse with various bad guys until things come to the crunch when Thomas is with the heavily out-numbered English army at the battle of Poitiers.

It's hard to fault the author when on ground as familiar and well researched as this and it is a very entertaining book. Elements are slightly cut short as the story pushes towards Poitiers, but this remains classic Cornwell. Having said that, I detected a slight change in style, there is more swearing and character banter then usual and some very light humour at times. No complaints but it did feel slightly different.

Much to enjoy here and I certainly did.
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104 of 109 people found the following review helpful
on 11 October 2012
Thomas of Hookton is back in Bernard Cornwell's new book 1356 and as usual, Cornwell does not disappoint with this novel. I have been looking forward to this book release for a very long time. Cornwell's Grail Quest trilogy was the first series of books that I ever read, so Thomas of Hookton holds a dear place in my heart and I couldn't wait to see what happens to him in 1356!

1356 sees Thomas and his group of rogue archers and men-at-arms (or otherwise known as the Hellequin) fighting as mercenaries in the French countryside. Thomas and his men are content; they are becoming rich off the warring French aristocracy and are able to help Frenchmen kill Frenchmen. However, Thomas knows that war is looming and when a message arrives from his liege Lord, the Earl of Northampton, Thomas is expecting to be wielding his bow back against the King of France. But, the letter is not what Thomas is expecting. The Earl of Northampton wants Thomas and his men to find a legendary relic called La Malice. La Malice is the sword of Saint Peter. The holy sword the Saint used to defend Jesus from the Romans.

The Earl of Northampton stresses how important La Malice is and Thomas sets out to reclaim it for the Kingdom of England. However, Thomas is not the only person looking for the sword! Thomas's nemesis Cardinal Bessieres is also looking for the relic in a vain attempt to become the next Pope! Both parties intertwine within the book, but the great finale between these two, and who ends up with the sword, is decided at the Battle of Poitiers! Will it be Thomas and the English or Bessieres and the French?

As usual, this was a great read from Bernard Cornwell and I'm glad that he has returned to this series because my favourite period in history is the Hundred Years War. I like that Cornwell does justice to the Battle of Poitiers. As he rightly says, Poitiers is always overshadowed by the other great battles of the time like Crecy and Agincourt, so it is nice to see Cornwell give it the credit and recognition it deserves! I also love the fact that the ending suggests there could be another book to follow! I just hope it doesn't take as long to come as 1356 has! And I love the front cover, it's so simple but just looks so awesome!

I would suggest this book to anyone who is a historical-fiction fan or to anyone who has read any of Cornwell's other novels. I would say that if you are a Cornwell fan and you haven't read his Grail Quest series, then go back to the first book Harlequin and start from there, don't start with 1356!

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61 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on 29 September 2012
1356 is - as any history buff will know - about the Poitiers campaign which culminated in the crushing defeat of the French by the Black Prince. Cornwell reintroduces use to Thomas of Hookton - now older, married with a son. We follow his fights against the normal crop of enemies that Thomas seems to accumulate: fat counts, sadistic churchmen, power mad cardinals (plus a meeting with the Pope who at that time was resident in Avignon)... Sir Thomas (yes knighted by the Earl of Northampton!) has a group of archers by his side who follow him on his adventures picking up damsels in distress, a dodgy sword - oh and a "perfect gentle-knight" who possible takes chivalry a little bit too far....

It all ends at Poitiers - where one of the great English (ok plus Gascon and Welsh!) victories of the 100 Years War occurs.

The book stands apart from the Vagabond trilogy - prior reading is not required (although it will help if you have read them of course if only to get the characters) and is characterised by Cornwell's detail to historical accuracy (as always the historical note section at the end of the book is fascinating).

Oh: violence and blood. Lots of it ....
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44 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on 7 October 2012
I'm a big fan of Cornwell, The emergence of this book surprised and delighted me. As ever it is a page-turner and I couldn't put the book down, and yet...

There's no getting away from the fact that these 100 Years War novels are fantastic, in the literal sense. Characters appear in bewildering profusion, and to be a French nobleman or churchman was to be a venal sadist, it seems. All ends are neatly tied and all scores are settled at the Battle of Poitiers, of course, and I can't help but reflect that the culmination of the novel in a set-piece (and for the English, successful) battle is a rather too familiar and lazy device of Cornwell's these days.

Then there is the issue of yet another Holy Relic. Come on, Mr Cornwell, was this plotline really necessary? I know that Dan Brown has made this brand of mystical hokum successful but it sits badly with novels of otherwise such historical authority. The Grail Quest was a means to an end, I suppose, but there is no excuse for repeating this rather silly device.

So, for me, this was a bit too familiar a pattern for the novel to be compelling and I think my haste in reading it was mainly prompted by knowing I had to get through the nonsense to reach the account of the battle! That, of course, does not disappoint and is worth the money alone. With these novels, ironically, you always know the ending and it says something for Cornwell that the books are still so readable. Try Cornwell's "The Fort" if you've not read it for a novel where (unless you are a student of the American Wars of Independence) you will still be wondering about the military outcome. It's not everybody's cup of tea but for me it's one of BC's best and it's not wrapped up in religious and mystical flummery!

Is this a good book? Certainly. The BC fans will devour it as I did. A new BC reader will possibly become addicted. But it's not a great book, in my view. It is formulaic and predictable and perhaps it is too easy to overlook this when the reader revels in yet another account of a glorious victory for the battle-hardened English bastards against the vain French. I rather had the feeling that I'd read it before! I think he's mined this particular vein one time too many for his own credibility. And please, Bernard, do spare us any more wretched holy relics!
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51 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on 29 September 2012
Bit of a suprise this. I had been expecting Mr Cornwell to release another in his excellent 'Saxon' series, rather than a return to his tales of the 100 years war.

No need to worry though, this book maintains Mr Cornwell's recent high quality and to be perfectly honest this new book is actually an order of magnitude better than the last book in the 'Harlequin' series, which personally I found to be one of the author's weakest efforts.

No spoilers here, fans of Bernard Cornwell will know exactly what to expect, skirmishes, duels & an epic battle with a little bit of romance thrown in. Mr Cornwell is nothing if not consistent in his choice of subject matters but fortunately for the reader he is consistently excellent at these rip-roaring boys own adventures.

Quick comment for all those whinging about the kindle price, a couple of years ago, before e-books made reading 'cool' again, all hardbacks were priced between £15 & £20. Even in supermarkets it was unheard of to see them below a tenner (unless it was guaranteed to be a mega seller, like Harry Potter).

Its only very recently that hardback books have dipped below the £10 mark, I suspect in response to the growing e-book market which is in direct competition with the original format.

If you think the e-book is too expensive buy the hard back, you have a choice, nobody has a gun to your head.

Leaving a book review based purely on your personal opinions about what you, as the consumer, feel you are entitled to in terms of value for money is not going to hurt amazon, its not going to hurt the author. It simply renders the review service completely meaningless for other kindle users.

If you are not happy about the service, e-mail amazon or the publishers, go ahead, vent your spleen, burst a blood vessel, but please stop leaving bad star ratings for books you haven't read simply because you feel entitled to receive something at a lower price than it is currently being offered for.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 20 August 2014
War is bad and war is bloody, if there is one modern author who has shown this more than any other it is Bernard Cornwell. He may be the most established writer of historic fiction around, but this has not stopped his use of vibrant language to illustrate the grim reality of fighting. This is certainly the case in ‘1356’ which has one of his most gruesome battles to date on a hill in France as the Prince of Wales fights to defend himself from the King of France’s army. This is one of the best battles of Cornwell’s illustrious career; it is at times literally eye popping.

However, the battle of Poitiers is not the focus of ‘1356’, but a magnificent bookend to a novel about Sir Thomas Hookton and his hunt for La Malice, a holy artefact. It is the narrative element of ‘1356’ that is far weaker than I would usually expect from the author. The characters do not help, Thomas is the de facto hero, but his most redeeming feature is that he does not allow rape – in every other way he is almost indistinguishable from the bad guys.

The story feels flimsy and almost as if Cornwell wrote just anything. He seems to be far more interested in exploring Poitiers and when the battle does start, the book becomes far better. However, part of historic fiction is to immerse the reader in character and not just war. This is a rare occasion in which Cornwell fails to do this. In terms of historic fiction the battles alone make the book worth reading, but this is certainly a lesser outing by the current king ‘o’ historic fiction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 June 2014
Let me begin by stating that I normally thoroughly enjoy reading Bernard Cornwell, in particular the stunning Azincourt which I cannot recommend highly enough, as well as the Sharp series and the Warrior Chronicles, but this not just falls short of those fantastic titles, it barely makes it to the starting post.
The story is based around a legendary sword, and the ropey, boring, rather pointless Indiana Jones-esq hunt for it, before low and behold, we all end up neatly at the battle of Poitiers.
I cant help but think that Bernard became engrossed in writing about Thomas and his band of merry men, and then someone, rather late on in his scripting, reminded him of what the book was supposed to be about.
The main character, Thomas, reminds me of some over the top, cheesy, 80's action hero; he (narrowly) escapes from every predicament, can beat every opponent put in front of him and has the skill with a bow that would have Robin Hood green with envy.
The book feels like you are wading through treacle, with sub plots put in that add so little to the story, that you start skim reading all too early on.

To finish, I would have awarded this book a full two stars if it had a differing blurb; as I was actually rather looking forward to reading about the Battle of Poitiers, which this book fails to do on a monumental scale. It spends 95% of the time waffling through dire plots, predicaments, outcomes and characters, with the final 5% dedicated to the battle, which I have to admit, is awfully scripted too.
You just do not feel like you have been magically transported right into the heat of the battle as Bernard usually does fantastically well. Maybe he could read a bit of Conn Iggulden, who is the true master for some ideas!

Conclusion? A very poor offering, so loosely based on the battle that it falls flat on its face, and a nigh-on insult to other offerings by this usually outstanding author
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 11 November 2012
First off, even though im giving this 4 stars, i still reccommend it. As a novel, its worth 5 stars. As a Bernard Cornwell novel, though, its not quite up to his usual standards.

The book takes us back to our old friend Thomas of Hookton, with another relic related quest for him (that makes it 3, if im not mistaken). Usual deadly enemies, quirky friends, and big messy battle at the end (Poitiers). It's all what we're used to.

But, something's missing, and im not sure what it is. The plot never really gets going, and a surprisingly small amount happens for such a thick book. Characters appear for no real reason, serving no purpose other than to be mentioned once every other chapter. The twists dont come out quite right, and the whole thing is a bit of an anticlimax.

There are good aspects, however. All our old friends from the grail quest trilogy come back into the light, and there are plenty of loose ends tied up. The battles, as always, are set out so well that you might as well be reading a newspaper from the time (well, if they had had them), and you do learn a few new things.

The only explanation i can think of for the anticlimax and vestigial characters is if this is going to get a sequel someday. God, let it be so.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 August 2014
I've read close to 30 of Bernard Cornwell's books and on the whole they've been excellent reads, but this one is a bit below par. It has a good beginning and a good ending, if a little abrupt, but a rather flat middle. It's a familiar formula: a mission of some sort culminating in a major battle. That in itself isn't a problem, the problem is that the mission - to find La Malice, the sword of St Peter - is completely uninvolving. Not only that, but some of the actions of the central character, in order to contrive situations of danger for him and his family, are quite ridiculous. Just as an example, why on Earth did he take his wife and son into enemy territory when he went to find a scholar in Montpellier? His wife was a wanted heretic with the death penalty hanging over her and his son was the biggest bargaining chip ever. But off they trot to have a little holiday in the lion's den and promptly get captured, a device that drives much of the book from that point. It makes no sense. The book lost me at that point and I only kept reading to get to the battle. That, as expected, was handled brilliantly, but the story leading up to it didn't do it justice.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 21 October 2012
Thomas of Hookton, mighty English bowman and the Relic Finder General, sets forth on yet another 100 Years War quest, on this occasion involving the Battle of Poitiers.

Character development and plot are as excellent as ever but I was disappointed at the fairly perfunctory ending. I felt so much more could have been made of Sculley, and the confrontation with the churchmen, as examples. It left me feeling short changed, an unusual feeling that I rarely get from reading Bernard Cornwell's books.
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