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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 10 March 2016
having come back to read the exploits of Thomas of Hookton, I have once again become 'hooked-on' this fascinating story woven into 700 year-old Anglo-French history and the superiority of the English war-bow as it was then. The added intrigue of Thomas's hunt for the Lance of, erm, well, I can't say more for fear of spoiling your excitement. I can only say that the next book in the series will see Thomas searching for an even more fascinating holy relic..... Many thanks once again to author Bernard Cornwell for his incredible research and storytelling.
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on 17 January 2016
This is as usual a very good and interesting read. As with all the Sharpe books I thoroughly enjoy the story, and the action.
I have read many of Bernard Cornwell's books and can say without a doubt that he is my favourite author.
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on 27 April 2001
Whilst I accept that the adventures of a certain Richard Sharpe are becoming somewhat hard to believe when viewed together, it cannot be denied that every single installment has been a very good read. Harlequin is as good a story as Mr. Cornwell has ever produced. It's central character, Thomas of Hookton, does have one or two characteristics shared with Sharpe, but considering they are both the heroes of military fiction from the same author, I think any similarities can be forgiven. Is Thomas of Hookton a medieval Sharpe ? I would answer that he is not. Even in the "India" novels Sharpe is a hard man, confident in his own ability to fight and kill. Thomas is a much less assertive character..riddled with self doubt and uncertainty. During the climactic battle scene he even concentrates on keeping himself out of harm's way for a time...can you imagine everyone's favourite rifleman doing that ? Cornwell paints a superbly vivid portrait of Medieval warfare....I've rarely read a better account of men in action, especially the description of the Battle of Crecy. Added to a sub-plot in which Thomas has sworn to avenge his murdered father and to retrieve the lance of St.George which was stolen when his father was killed we have a riveting storyline. I can't wait for the next volume of this proposed three-parter.
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on 12 April 2016
I'm pretty new to Bernard Cornwells books and after finishing The Last Kingdom series (1-9) in just 5 weeks I feared id never find another set of books to match them. I bought Harlequin on the cheap and after the first chapter found myself getting lost once again in another fantastic story although at one point I thought it was the end of Thomas after i'd just got to like him which would have spoilt it totally for me!
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on 2 April 2016
Super read. As always very close to historical reality, carefully altered, crafted to enhance the story. The research of custom, weapons, armour and fighting was, as always, exact and extensive. A roaring adventure.
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on 3 February 2012
As much as I like the Sharpe books, the Warlord Chronicles is far more to my taste when it comes to Bernard Cornwell. I was hoping that the Holy Grail series would be closer to the Arthur books then and I would find a new favourite series of his.
After reading Harlequin I can say I am both satisfied and slightly disappointed. If ever there was a book that was a love child between two series, Harlequin falls into the category.

It combines some of the best elements of the Arthur series but is also spoilt by some of the weaker elements of the Sharpe series. Well, when I say weaker elements, I refer to the things I find annoying but know full well, others love about Cornwell's writing.

You see, the great thing about the Warlord Chronicles is the legend of King Arthur has so little/vague evidence of the time period. This meant that Bernard was not constrained in his writing in order to ensure historical accuracy. He was free to write each scene and battle as he imagined it. He was able to introduce the hint of magic into the story whilst still ensuring credibility. He was able to flip the personalities of the characters. In short, he could write what he wanted and the result of this was a masterpiece.

With the Harlequin and indeed the Sharpe books, although they are great reads, they are also historically accurate. Most of the time, Bernard manages to expertly weave this into the story effortlessly. However, at times like in the Harlequin, in order to impart to the audience exactly what really went on in the battles etc, he sometimes lapses into a few pages of description regarding the movement of major figures in history who have not featured prominently in the story. I find this results in me being thrown out of the great story telling slightly. Only slightly mind!

The Harlequin then focuses on Thomas of Hookton. An archer who's town is destroyed whilst he was supposed to be defending it. Thomas is a good character to root for, but also frustrating at the same time. He is very Sharpe like in that he loves battle and has a sense of honour and loyalty to his fellow soldiers. However, this commitment to the army gets in the way of him fulfilling the numerous personal vows of vengeance he makes. Sometimes you just want him to get on with his personal quest.

The supporting cast as you would expect from a Cornwell novel is strong. Will Skeet in particular is likeable as the hard nosed but fair leader of the archers, as is Father Hobb who acts as Thomas' conscience. There are some characters that drift in and out of the narrative with no resolution but this is to be expected in the first book of a trilogy. There is also the customary villain of the story who continues to haunt Thomas.

The trilogy is about the quest for the Holy Grail. It is mentioned in this first novel and I particularly like how the characters deal with it. For instance, in a world so grounded in the harshness of war, Thomas does not debunk the Grail's existence but chooses to bury his head in the sand over the whole mythos surrounding the artefact. The fact that the character openly recognises that he does not have the mental capacity of will to comprehend such a thing of power is a nice touch and helps to improve the Grail's credibility.

Overall then, Harlequin is a good Cornwell book. Which means it is better than about 80% of the books out there. My rating: 8.4
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This is the first book in Bernard Cornwell's bestselling GRAIL QUEST series, in a bright and bold repackage. The year is 1342. The English, led by Edward III, are laying waste to the French countryside. The army may be led by the King, but it is the archers, the common men, who are England's secret weapon. The French know them as Harlequins. Thomas of Hookton is one of these archers. But he is also on a personal mission: to avenge his father's death and retrieve a stolen relic. Thomas begins a quest that will lead him through fields smeared with the smoke of fires set by the rampaging English, until at last the two armies face each other on a hillside near the village of Crecy I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
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on 25 July 2013
This is the first book in the 'Grail Quest' series which follows the adventures of Thomas Hookton, an English archer. Set in France in the fourteenth century it describles life and death in graphic detail. Bernard Cornwell is an excellent writer an is able top make the reader feel part of the story and suffer the deprevation of war and life in these times. This coupled with the accurate historical facts covered in the book makes for an excellent read and almost guarantees that you will want to continue participating in the life of young Thomas in the remaining book of the series.
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on 15 March 2013
I read one of Bernard Cornwell's books (Azincourt) recently and found it hard to put down as the story line was so gripping. This novel is just the same only better. It allows you to focus in on one character a feel his heartbreak & pain whilst staying historically accurate. It is well written over the course of 470+ pages and I have read it in 5 days. Now I've had to buy the next two books in the Grail Trilogy just to keep up.
Bernard Cornwell also wrote the Sharpe series which is well worth picking up on DVD. The main character played supremely well by Yorkshire's own Sean Bean.
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on 20 September 2007
"Harlequin" (also known by its US title, "The Archer's Tale") is the first book in Cornwell's Grail Quest trilogy and follows the experiences of young longbowman Thomas of Hookton during the early years of what will become known as the Hundred Years' War. When Thomas's father is killed and his village destroyed by French raiders, he vows revenge upon those responsible and makes it his goal to recover the holy relic - the lance of St George - that they stole from Hookton's church. Years later, as he finds himself fighting for King and country in Brittany, he starts to discover the nature of his enemy, the Harlequin, and of his own destiny in defending Christendom.

This is an entertaining and fast-paced tale, in the course of which Thomas joins battle countless times, makes both enemies and friends, is outlawed and then reconciled, finds love, has it taken away, and finds it again, while a host of supporting characters enter and disappear from the narrative. Unfortunately this fast pace means that there is little overall sense of direction to the book, and since the quest for the Grail forms only a subplot in this first volume it means unfortunately that the narrative lacks much depth. Thomas, too, is not as compelling a character as Cornwell's other heroes, Derfel (of the Warlord Chronicles), and Uhtred (of the Saxon Stories). He remains a rather bland and disinterested figure and shows little development over the course of the book, and it is difficult for the reader to feel an emotional connection with him.

On the other hand Cornwell is very good at fleshing out his story with a cast of interesting supporting characters. Two in particular stand out, namely Thomas's employer, the gruff William Skeat, and his sworn enemy, the bitter and penniless knight Sir Simon Jekyll, while many other refreshingly quirky minor characters lend personality and life to the setting. Cornwell expertly creates a real sense of time and place, and his depictions of the medieval towns of of La Roche-Derrien and Rennes, and of the French countryside, are colourful and vivid. He does well, too, to communicate the drive and often the desperation felt within the English army, as well as the utter destruction inflicted upon the French. His battle scenes are likewise engaging and his treatment of the Battle of Crécy, the climax of the book, is excellent.

Everything considered, "Harlequin" is a great yarn, not by any means Cornwell's best work but very readable nonetheless. I would be interested to see how he develops Thomas's character and his quest in the sequels, "Vagabond" and "Heretic".
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