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The Battle for Character,
This review is from: 1356 (Paperback)
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.