Expectations before reading
Here comes another book by Bernard Cornwell. Since Bernard Cornwell is among my favorite authors, of course I expect a great book. A great historical novel with some great battle (or battles), to be precise. This is what I expect from every Bernard Cornwell novel.
I like the design of my edition. It is not very spectacular or anything but I still like it. I think I is quite fitting: The cover shows a bow, an arrow and a third thing which is probably a shield. I think this quite fitting, because this is a book about an archer. At least according to the blurb, which reads:
“1415. Peace hangs in the balance for England and France. But when the young King Henry V leads an army to northern France, the bloody fighting must begin once more.
For archer and outlaw Nicholas Hook, a position in the king’s army means freedom and a chance to live among the men he most respects: the English archers. And on the morning of St Crispins’s Day, outranked and outnumbered by the French, they must fight in the face of certain defeat.
But the skill of the archers is unparalleled and, on a narrow strip of land near Azincourt, one of the greatest and bloodiest battles will be played out, and victorious history will be made.”
Since I know Bernard Cornwell’s novels, I, as I already mentioned, expect a great book. But even if I didn’t know his novels I probably would because the book cover and back are full of praise:
“No other historical novelist has acquired such a mastery of the minutiae of warfare” – Telegraph
“A runaway success” – Guardian
“Bernard Cornwell is a literary miracle” – Daily Mail
“Nobody in the world does this better than Cornwell” – Lee Child
There is even more praise on the very first page of the book.
The book is dedicated to Bernard Cornwell’s granddaughter.
Once again a really great historical novel by Bernard Cornwell with a very interesting historical note
in the back. As always. What I saw for the first time in one if his books is that behind the historical note there was another text about the longbow. About its history and how and why it was used and so on. Quite interesting.
The book also contains a few maps or parts of a map showing where the English marched in France and also the battle positions.
The book tells the story of how King Henry V decided to claim the throne of France. He believed that it was his by right. So he gathers and army and goes to France but there he and his army have to face far more difficult resistance than they expected.
The plot is quite interesting but it also has its lengths. The siege of Harfleur for example takes such a big part of the book and the reader is mostly waiting for the battle of Azincourt that was mentioned in the blurb and that is also the title of the book. On the other hand it probably depicts quite well how this situation actually was. Much waiting and a lot of back and forth.
In other books by Bernard Cornwell where people really strongly believed in God and saints there usually were some extreme priests and the main character that was not a believer. This is different in this book. What is also different is that the main character is not this reckless hero. Maybe I do Bernard Cornwell wrong by writing this, I have also read other books by him where the main character was not like this, but in many I have read so far this was the case.
The main Character, Nicholas Hook, is quite inexperienced in the beginning. He is rather poor and then becomes an outlaw. But he is hard working and skilled with is bow and so works his way up slowly.
Of course there are also other characters, and each one of them is very different. They have different characteristics and skills and there are many characters you can sympathize with. And of course there are also the bad guys. I would say there are two types of bad guys: First the ones you really do not like at all because they are just cruel and evil. And then the one that is also cruel and maybe evil to some point but that is presented in such a way that you somehow also sympathize with him to a certain extend.
Set in the 15th century Bernard Cornwell catches the spirit of this time really well in my opinion. The power of the church and the believe in saints and God, that will lead the English to victory. Also Bernard Cornwell described the places very well. London at that time and the different places in France, the battleground and so on. You can really see these places as a reader.
I really like Bernard Cornwell’s style of writing. And I guess I have written this in many reviews of his books before: His battle scenes are amazing. I am always happy that I do not have to experience this and I guess if some movie would show it with that much detail I could not bear to look at it. Also I have to admit that especially the last battle in this book is very brutal. And I just had to scan over some parts because it is not the nicest thing to read. Why I still think these scenes amazing? Well, because if the style. Because you really see these things vividly while reading. And this is an extraordinary skill in my opinion.
Opinion after reading
I can really recommend this book. Even though it does have some lengths it is still a very thrilling story. It is impressive that this battle at Azincourt that looked so hopeless was actually fought and won by the English. (This is no spoiler – it already says on the blurb that they will win.) And even if you as a reader know that they will eventually win, you really do not see how this can possibly happen until the very end. The book is very well written and has many different characters where everyone finds someone to sympathize with.