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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Vagabond - Bernard Cornwell

Vagabond is the second book on the Grail Quest series by Bernard Cornwell, author of historical fiction.

My last review (The Archer's Tale) was a little harsh on his accounting of the rampant violence in the Middle Ages, but more than that, less of a plot. Vagabond is much better in that respect. The hideous violence is still present but in less quantities and character development is very good in this novel.

The story continues very soon after The Archer's Tale ends. The Scottish armies are now involved in the Hundred Years War, allied with the French, but the English are showing to be tough to defeat on the battlefield, mainly due to the English bows, later called longbows by historians. England is the only country to have developed significant skill with the longbow and therefore had an edge in many battles during this time.

Our protagonist, Thomas of Hookton, is now on fire with his search for information about the Holy Grail, but not yet the Grail itself. But he soon finds out that there are others who even more zealous for the whereabouts of the Grail. His travels take him back to France where he hopes that he has shaken those who would capture and interrogate him about the Grail, but he finds himself right back "into the fire." One of his chasers is a Dominican priest, but more specifically an Inquisitor of the famed Inquisition. Thomas has to endure a gruesome torture session from the Inquisitor. Meanwhile, the Duke, Charles of Blois of France, is attempting to take back some of the land the English had taken in the previous book. This leads to the battle climax when all the characters come together.

Stories about the Holy Grail are numerous. Some are even silly. Even though the topic is overdone in writing and literature, Cornwell does a great job with the legend. My guess is that is will remain a mystery. That would be in line with his style writing when dealing with mystical and religious acts and relics. I look forward to the final book in the series, Heretic.

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