Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Book Review and Giveaway: The Archer's Tale by Bernard Cornwell

I only now read this in spite of my admiration for Cornwell as a writer because I have absolutely no sympathy for the English during the Hundred Years War which this series depicts. After all, Scots fought on the other side with their allies the French, and frankly the English thirst for conquest does not appeal to me. However, I finally gave in and read this because Cornwell is such a good writer. I can't say I regret it. I do find it interesting and regrettable that Cornwell chose to make the main character, an archer, English instead of Welsh. 

The story follows the adventures of Thomas of Hookton, the illegitimate son of a priest, Father Ralph, who educates him beyond his normal station, teaching him Latin and French. However, a pirate who happens to be Father Ralph's nephew massacres the town, killing everyone except Thomas, seeking a relic the priest had hidden there. Thomas joins King Edward III's army hoping to find and take revenge on the man who slaughtered his father and the people of the poor fishing village of Hookton.

In France, Thomas becomes a noted archer at La Roche-Derrien which they take thanks to Thomas's wiles. We are introduced to the main characters, Thomas's enemy Sir Simon Jekyll, Blackbird who is later revealed to be someone else entirely, and Father Hobbe who is a rather 'Jiminy Cricket' character serving as Thomas's conscience, and Eleanor as well as other minor characters.

The novel moves pretty briskly from battle to battle and to Thomas saving 'Blackbird' as her actual identity is revealed. He eventually reaches Normandy, 'Blackbird' being lost in the course of the adventure, finds his father's murderer, and acquires a new quest: that of the Holy Grail. The novel ends with the English triumph over the French at the Battle of Crecy.

One of the things Cornwell does extremely well in this novel is show the dominance of the archer in European warfare of the period. He has obviously gone to the trouble to learn a great deal about it and uses his knowledge to excellent effect. As always, Cornwell depicts battles extraordinarily well, showing the merciless reality of medieval combat and its aftermath.

Cornwell never makes the mistake of making his hero a stereotype of the chivalrous gallant. I can definitely believe the character of Thomas who is given strong reasons for his actions, even those a lot less than admirable. However, it is weakened slightly by rather standard bumbling villains with weak reasons behind their enmity and the character of Hobbe which I found quite stereotypical.

Nonetheless, this is an engrossing novel well worth the read as one would expect from a master of the craft like Cornwell.
You'll find the novel on Amazon for Kindle here

Edited to add: The giveaway is complete and I will contact winners directly. Thanks for entering!