Friday, November 27, 2009

Review by JD: Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell

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(covers US on left – UK and Canada both)

Book Stats from Amazon:

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (January 20, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061578916
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061578915
  • Genre: Historical Fiction

    HarperCollins, 2008 (trade paper edition available December 29, 2009)

    Read and Reviewed by John:

    Agincourt is a name well known to history buffs, anglophiles and fans of William Shakespeare. It is one of a handful of the most famous battles in English history, made yet more famous by Shakespeare’s play Henry V. It happened during the early part of the fifteenth century in the middle of the Hundred Years war between the English and the French. The battle was fought between a bedraggled, diseased and motley English army led by the warrior king Henry V, and a huge and healthy French army that was many times bigger. Despite the overwhelming odds against them, the English won the day.

    There were many reasons for the unexpected outcome, perhaps the most important being that the English armies of the time were built around the use of longbows. What seemed to be a simple device became a fearsome weapon in the hands of well-drilled teams or archers. No matter how well armored were the massed ranks of French soldiers, the archers were able to inflict terrible damage on them.

    This is a work of historical fiction that takes the basic facts of the battle and the events leading up to it, and weaves a story around them. It is written from the point of view of Nicholas Hook, a lowly archer in the English army. Through his eyes you get to experience the excitement, the dread and the horror of a medieval war campaign.

    It’s the first Cornwell book that I’ve read, but apparently this is very much his typical style. He seems to get a lot of plaudits for doing his homework and for bringing a lot of authenticity into his books. Certainly this felt very real, with a mass of believable detail. In this case I do need to warn you that it pulls no punches in describing the utter savagery and butchery of a medieval battle. He also captures really well the squalor and filth of it all.

    I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Perhaps I was an easy catch as I’ve always been fascinated by this period of European history. The constant plots and intrigues really need no fictionalization to make them fascinating; and the whole concept of a war that lasted over a hundred years continues to beggar belief. That being said, this book added a lot to my knowledge and made me re-think a few things. There was a theme running through the book about both the English and the French believing that God was on their side and therefore they both tried to claim the moral high ground. Leaders on both sides used religious beliefs to justify their actions and to motivate their armies. For me that was much scarier than all of the blood and the guts.

    I’d thoroughly recommend this to anyone interested in historical fiction or life in medieval times, or indeed anyone who enjoys a good action story. I’d rate this book 4 Stars.

    (And a big thanks to Charlie/Professor B. Worm, whose review of this book led me to seek it out).

    Author Bio:

    44ec8149e7a0489a4a91f110.L._SY100_Bernard Cornwell was born in London in 1944 – a “warbaby” - whose father was a Canadian airman and mother in Britain's Women's Auxiliary Air Force. He was adopted by a family in Essex who belonged to a religious sect called the Peculiar People (and they were), but escaped to London University and, after a stint as a teacher, he joined BBC Television where he worked for the next 10 years. He began as a researcher on the Nationwide programme and ended as Head of Current Affairs Television for the BBC in Northern Ireland. It was while working in Belfast that he met Judy, a visiting American, and fell in love. Judy was unable to move to Britain for family reasons so Bernard went to the States where he was refused a Green Card. He decided to earn a living by writing, a job that did not need a permit from the US government - and for some years he had been wanting to write the adventures of a British soldier in the Napoleonic wars - and so the Sharpe series was born. Bernard and Judy married in 1980, are still married, still live in the States and he is still writing Sharpe.

    Amazon purchasing links are US/UK/Canada and The Book Depository in Euros.


    Charlie said...

    A great review, JD, and I'm glad you enjoyed the book. There's still plenty of Cornwell to be read ...

    John D said...

    Thanks Charlie. I'll be starting with the next three Cornwell books you recommended before long.

    Felicity Grace Terry said...

    I love his books, especially the ones based in Egypt - wonderful reading.

    John D said...

    Hi Penny,

    Thanks for the comment. It looks like I might have hit on a rich stream here - I love ancient Egyptian history too. It's still quite unbelievable what they managed to achieve ~4,000 years ago.

    I was lucky enough to visit Giza and Luxor once and it was an amazing experience.

    Looks like I'm building quite a stack of Cornwell's to be read!


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