1356 by Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell, the master storyteller of historical fiction, has done it again. He has written another engaging book, 1356: A Novel, based on the Battle of Poitiers between the English (and their Gascon allies) and the French. Here is a quick synopsis of the story from the book’s publisher:

September 1356. All over France, towns are closing their gates. Crops are burning, and through-out the countryside people are on the alert for danger. The English army—led by the heir to the throne, the Black Prince—is set to invade, while the French, along with their Scottish allies, are ready to hunt them down.

But what if there was a weapon that could decide the outcome of the imminent war?

Thomas of Hookton, known as le Batard, has orders to uncover the lost sword of Saint Peter, a blade with mystical powers said to grant certain victory to whoever possesses her. The French seek the weapon, too, and so Thomas’s quest will be thwarted at every turn by battle and betrayal, by promises made and oaths broken. As the outnumbered English army becomes trapped near Poitiers, Thomas, his troop of archers and men-at-arms, his enemies, and the fate of the sword converge in a maelstrom of violence, action, and heroism.

Rich with colorful characters, great adventure, and thrilling conflict, 1356 is a magnificent tale of how the quest for a holy relic with the power to change history may culminate in an epic struggle.

The character, Thomas of Hookton, may sound familiar. That is because he is from Cornwell’s Grail Quest series. As he has done with all of his historical novels, Cornwell places the main character Thomas in the middle of the fighting.  He is a man who comes from a blend of nobility and peasant stock. This combination serves him well while he tries to negotiate the tricky French countryside in his search for the mysterious sword that supposedly holds the fates of England and France in its blade.

Another classic trait of a Cornwell novel are the vile enemies of the main character. Cornwell does not disappoint in this book.  The development of characters such the Count of Labrouillade, Cardinal Bessieres, and Father Marchant allows the reader to really loath them. Cornwell almost relishes in creating despicable characters with the cruelest of traits.

Finally, as with most Cornwell novels, the historical depictions of battle, lifestyle, and clothing/equipment are superb. The battle descriptions are based on sound research from various primary and secondary sources. Cornwell also captures the weapons used during this time period – especially the English longbow and the various blunt force weapons used in close combat.

1356 is a wonderful fictional account of the great English victory over the French in the Battle of Poitiers.


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