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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Archer's Tale - Bernard Cornwell

The Archer's Tale is the first book in the Grail Quest series by historical fiction writer, Bernard Cornwell. It is set toward the beginning of the Hundred Years War in France, in the 14th century. As per his obligatory historical note at the end of the book, all of the major battles are mostly historically accurate with the characters and the places.

The story is mostly told from the point of view of Thomas of Hookton, a bastard child of a priest from southern England. Following a raid on Hookton, Thomas, already excelling with the bow, flees and joins a unit of arms that serves the king of England. The underlying tale, behind the invasions and battles, is of a Christian relic, a lance that is old ash and warped but is said to possess power, a la Gabriel's feather, or the leg bone of the donkey that Jesus Christ rode on into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. This was the prevailing mystical belief of relics in those days. Thomas soon finds out that he may not be English at all. And this all revolves around the lance and possibly other holy the famed Holy Grail.

Thomas also has a few love interests throughout the story but those plot lines don't seem to get off the ground. In fact, the historical battles seem to oppress any dynamic plot, although there is character development with Thomas and a couple other major characters. I found that there were large chunks of pages devoted to retelling of history, specifically the battles. I came away wanting a little more plot and less history.

This war is a bloody time in European history. The battles are describes in gory detail; swords into the gut, axes to the head, hamstringing horses, raping and pillaging after the battles, etc. I enjoyed Mr. Cornwell's writing as always. I just wanted more education on a breadth of topics and not just how bloody the battles were. I tend to push through battle scenes rather quickly. While necessary, they can be overdone. I can't help but compare this book to the Warlord Trilogy and the Saxon Tales, both of which are wonderfully balanced with the barbarism of the Middle Ages and the humanity of love and brotherhood.

Overall, though, I enjoyed this book and will continue the series. I look forward to see where Thomas goes after his first major battle.

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