Tag Archives: historical

heretic

Heretic (Grail Quest #3) by Bernard Cornwell

From Goodreads:

Already a seasoned veteran of King Edward’s army, young Thomas of Hookton possesses the fearlessness of a born leader and an uncanny prowess with the longbow. Now, at the head of a small but able band of soldiers, he has been dispatched to capture the castle of Astarac. But more than duty to his liege has brought him to Gascony, home of his forebears and the hated black knight who brutally slew Thomas’s father. It is also the last place where the Holy Grail was reported seen. Here, also, a beautiful and innocent, if not pious, woman is to be burned as a heretic. Saving the lady, Genevieve, from her dread fate will brand Thomas an infidel, forcing them to flee together across a landscape of blood and fire. And what looms ahead is a battle to the death that could ultimately shape the future of Christendom.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I’ve read very little historical fiction over the years but I’m very much enjoying this series. While the characters and the majority of events are fictional it’s nicely set in among actual events that are at least familiar if not well known.

Thomas’ character is also interesting. He’s a merciless killer but also with a strong moral code and honour system. His character, as well as Guy Vexille and even Abbot Planchard are used as a way to criticise the Church structure, systems and corruption but not in an overly intrusive way.

While there is more of Thomas’ story to come I was pleased to see a closure of the grail story arc. Too many authors take an idea and beat it to death over a prolonged period of time. Whatever is in store for Thomas, it will be a different story.

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gun plot

A fascinating and insightful depiction of events that surrounded the period of time in Ireland known as The Arms Crisis and the subsequent Arms Trial. It also provides history of events in Northern Ireland as relationships between the Protestant majority and Catholic minority disintegrated leading to The Troubles.

Gun Plot deals with the decisions made by the government in the Republic of Ireland to provide support to the Catholic people in Northern Ireland. There was a possibility of invasion of the North by the army of the Republic to provide protection for Catholic areas. This was eventually watered down to providing arms for the Citizen Committees to provide defence against marauding Loyalist militias acting in collusion with the police.

This importation and provision of arms was done in secret to avoid the perception of a declaration of war by the Republic of Ireland towards Britain. Not all of government or all government departments were included in the decision and some were vehemently opposed to it as it was feared that the IRA would gain access to the weapons and use them to try and overthrow the government of the Republic. The subsequent revelation of the smuggled guns led to the Arms Trial in 1971 and the eventual aquittal of all the accused. One of these was Cabinet Minister Charles (Charlie) Haughey who went on to become a very controversial politician and eventually Taoiseach.

Gun Plot is composed of a 1hr TV documentary and a 9 part podcast. It provides a detailed analysis of the events and backs it up with current interviews of family and recordings of interviews of the main characters recorded in the 90s (all the people involved have now died). It also uses recordings from the actual trial which have not been heard before and is a first for any court case in Ireland. This is crucially important as the original typed transcripts have disappeared.

This period in Irish history is crucially important to the following years but has remained shrouded in mystery as to many of the details. Modern perceptions are very different to what is portrayed in this series and RTE have done a fantastic service in bringing it out in the open.

Official RTE website

Podcast on Spotify

harlequin

Harlequin (Grail Quest #1) by Bernard Cornwell

From Goodreads:

From New York Times bestselling author Bernard Cornwell, now available in paperback—the first book in the Grail Series–a spellbinding tale of a young man, a fearless archer, who sets out wanting to avenge his family’s honor and winds up on a quest for the Holy Grail.

At dawn on Easter morning 1343, a marauding band of French raiders arrives by boat to ambush the coastal English village of Hookton. To brave young Thomas, the only survivor, the horror of the attack is epitomized in the casual savagery of a particular black-clad knight, whose flag — three yellow hawks on a blue field — presides over the bloody affair. As the killers sail away, Thomas vows to avenge the murder of his townspeople and to recapture a holy treasure that the black knight stole from the church.

To do this, Thomas of Hookton must first make his way to France; So in 1343 he joins the army of King Edward III as it is about to invade the continent — the beginning of the Hundred Years War. A preternaturally gifted bowman, Thomas quickly becomes recognized as one of England’s most deadly archers in King Edward’s march across France. Yet he never stops scanning the horizon for his true enemy’s flag.

When Thomas saves a young Frenchwoman from a bloodthirsty crowd, her father — French nobleman Sir Guillaume d’Evecque — rewards his bravery by joining him in the hunt for the mysterious dark knight and the stolen holy relic. What begins as a search for vengeance will soon prove the beginning of an even higher purpose: the quest for the Holy Grail itself.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is a superb book and I read it through in less than 2 days. It’s a completely original setting for me as I haven’t read anything from this time period. The quality is of the writing is among the very best I’ve read.

In all three things made this book for me. The first, as always, are the characters. There are a small number of main characters and a host of supporting minor characters but the author manages to make all of them stand out and be memorable. He gives just enough information to make them relatable without bogging the reader down with unnecessary detail. Thomas, despite the description above, is no knight on a quest and simply wants to fight and plunder while keeping himself and his friends alive. He’s the reluctant hero.

The second is the battle scenes. The setting is the start of the Hundred Years War with a mixture of seige fighting, knight cavalry charges and hand to hand fighting. This is definitely no romantic Arthurian chivalrous combat. It’s bloody, violent and very visceral. It’s about staying alive by killing as many of the enemy as possible and then taking what you can from the survivors. The author manages to find just the right balance between detail and not losing the reader in the complexity of the writing. I’ve seen him do that with some of the Last Kingdom battles but not here.

The third element for me is how he tells the story. We are dropped into the middle of the war and into Thomas’s life with no background or back story to work from. We gradually get to know him and his quest as the book progresses and keeping the mystery keeps the interest. He also blends the stories of Thomas, Sir Simon, Guillaume and Harlequin together in a very skilled way.

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enemy of god

Enemy of God (Warlord Chronicles #2) by Bernard Cornwell

From Goodreads:

The balance of King Arthur’s unified kingdom is threatened by Merlin’s quest for the last of Britain’s 13 Treasures; by the conflict between the ancient religion and the new Christianity; and by Britain’s war with the Saxons. A master storyteller continues his retelling of the Arthurian legend.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The first book introduced us to a new version of Arthur and the Arthurian story but this second installment takes it to anther level.

Derfel is still our guide. He’s a grown man now, Arthur’s trusted friend and key to the success of Arthur’s plans. He’s in love with the beautiful princess but it’s not a fairytale story for them. We also see him in his later years as he continues to write the story for the young Queen Igraine and there are tantalising hints of what happens to him through the years to bring him into Sansum’s care.

The story is obviously based around the Arthurian legends but this is a much darker tale than the traditional stories of gallantry, romance and chivalrous knights and so much better for it. The author takes the traditional characters and layers then with ambition, violence and even downright evil on occasion. It’s probably much closer to the truth!

This isn’t a particularly long book but it’s packed full of detail from the storyline to character development that it seems long – in a really good way though. When it finished I just wanted it to keep going, thankfully there’s a third instalment still to come!

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the winter king

The Winter King (The Warlord Chronicles #1) by Bernard Cornwell

From Goodreads:

Uther, the High King, has died, leaving the infant Mordred as his only heir. His uncle, the loyal and gifted warlord Arthur, now rules as caretaker for a country which has fallen into chaos – threats emerge from within the British kingdoms while vicious Saxon armies stand ready to invade. As he struggles to unite Britain and hold back the enemy at the gates, Arthur is embroiled in a doomed romance with beautiful Guinevere. Will the old-world magic of Merlin be enough to turn the tide of war in his favour?

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A very original take on the story of King Arthur, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table. It’s written as a retrospective from the point of view of Derfel, a young British orphan and eventual friend of Arthur, now in his latter years.

This is similar to the author’s Last Kingdom novels and the similarities don’t end there. In fact it took me a while to shake the feeling I was reading another chapter of Uhtred’s life.

Once over that this was a great read. There are a number of great characters and just enough of the Arthur legend to make it seem familiar. If this first book is a true reflection of the rest of the series then it should be a cracker!

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