Monday, October 22, 2012

1356... a review

Just finished the latest from Mr Cornwell and thought it justified a full review rather than a few lines in the book review page..

A very welcome surprise was that "1356" features one of my more favourite (can you say 'more' favourite??? ) Cornwell characters - Thomas of Hookton (or rather Sir Thomas of Hookton since events at the end of the Grail trilogy)

The other welcome surprise is that Cornwell has returned to that very fertile ground of the Hundred Years War, where English and Welsh archers using the longbow and under the command of their hugely experienced and professional commanders ruled the battlefield...

I know that Cornwell is probably better known lately for his Dark Ages stories, and they're very good, but this era definitely beats it for me...  not much to dislike here!

So..  here we get Thomas of Hookton, a veteran of Crecy and many other battles, who is now (10 years after Crecy) the leader of a company of mercenary bowmen and men-at-arms based in Gascony.

Edward, Prince of Wales (a good depiction of the "Black Prince" I thought), is engaged on a massive chevauchée [clicky]* into France, but unlike his previous effort (the year before), this time the French have bitten and have mobilised their army, in pursuit..

The 1356 chevauchee - Bordeaux, Bourges, Romartin, Tours and Poitiers
Thomas is called to the standard by his liege lord, but before he can join is given a mission to recover a major religious artefact, supposedly the sword of Peter which was used in the defence of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.... not surprisingly the forces of the enemy are also looking for it, in this case a cardinal with pretensions of being the next Pope, a rabid Scottish noblemen who has come to the French to be able to kill Englishman, and a brilliant (comic?) turn by a French knight who has read a little too many historical romances....

All of these factors come together on the eve of the battle, which is by far and away the best part of the book - the rest of the book was a little "slow" if I'm to be honest - can't help thinking Cornwell would have been better forgetting about the sub-plot with the sword and just focussing on the battle - but hey, I'm not a multi-selling author so what do I know?!

I much preferred Azincourt, and I think the Grail books were slightly better as well, but I can forgive a lot for the fictional description of the battle....  so 7/10...

* From Wikipedia: "For this chevauchee Edward had an estimated 7,000 men and they had set out from Bordeaux under his command. The chevauchée began on 4 August 1356, against the city of Bourges. This chevauchée differed from the first in that, in addition to the raiding, burning and looting, there was also military action taken against objectives away from the main body of the force. Edward burned the suburbs of Bourges, but did not capture the city. However, he did capture the less important city of Audley.
Several small forces of French knights were defeated and Edward paused to besiege and capture the small town of Romorantin, where several French leaders were holed up. By this time the army of John II of France was in pursuit (approx. 20-25,000 men). Edward marched West along the Loire River to Tours, burning the suburbs before marching south. By this time the French army was only thirty miles (50 km) away and had superior numbers. The French pursued faster than the English marched. By 18 September 1356, Edward entered Poitiers. The next day, outside the city, the Battle of Poitiers was fought, which resulted in a great English victory and the capture of John II of France (who eventually died in captivity after his large ransom, twice the yearly income of France, went unpaid)".

9 comments:

  1. Hmm! Sounds good, I always enjoyed the Hookton stories!

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    1. Worth a read for sure.. not as good as the Grail books (in my view), but way better than most...

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  2. First off I love Cornwell's books!
    Hmmm, it makes me a bit nervous, because I really liked the Grail series(second only to the Arthurian), but was very disappointed with Azincourt and you say this isn't even as good as that.....I'll read it of course if for no other reason that I read everything he writes!

    Christopher

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    1. Axebreaker - worth giving it a go... if only to reacquaint yourself with Thomas of Hookton! Besides Cornwell is almost the house author for wargamers isn't he?! :o)

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    2. Oh I will of course and indeed he is!:-)

      Christopher

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  3. Thanks for taking the trouble to inform us about this and giving your views. Cornwell is one of my favourite authors too, and I liked Azincourt.
    Chris

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  4. Some resonant names on your map from when we used to holiday in that part of France when I was small. My father used to drive us around for weeks navigating solely by good Logis de France hotel locations. I've stayed in about twenty of the towns on that map! Haven't read the third of the grail quest so need to read that next!

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    1. When the spuds were smaller we went on many a family chevauchee, sorry holiday, in that region as well... many happy memories of Roche sur Yon, Royan and the Loire Atlantique generally...

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