Tag Archives: holy grail

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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vagabond

Vagabond (Grail Quest #2) by Bernard Cornwell

From Goodreads:

In 1347, a year of conflict and unrest, Thomas of Hookton returns to England to pursue the Holy Grail. Among the flames of the Hundred Years War, a sinister enemy awaits the fabled archer and mercenary soldier: a bloodthirsty Dominican Inquisitor who also seeks Christendom’s most holy relic. But neither the horrors of the battlefield nor sadistic torture at the Inquisitor’s hands can turn Thomas from his sworn mission. And his thirst for vengeance will never be quenched while the villainous black rider who destroyed everything he loved still lives.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I don’t really understand why I’m enjoying this series so much but I really am. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever read but maybe that is the reason why?

Overall I’d struggle to explain what happens in this book and how the story progresses. It’s jam packed full of characters, individual small stories and great characters and while there is plenty of action the overall story doesn’t really move forward much. At the end of the book not a lot has changed compared to the start. Maybe that’s it, maybe that’s the reason why?

One definite reason are the battle scenes. I’ve read series’ by the same author set in Viking and Celtic times where the battles revolve around individual swordsmen and their experiences. With the main character being an archer it’s a different perspective. You get his viewpoint but also that of others and the overall battle scene. This combination is fantastic to read. In many battle scenes I skim through as the detail can be repetitive and boring but not in this case, here I devoured every word.

I do like Thomas, the main character. He is flawed and imperfect, very much reluctant to take up the quest and therefore much more realistic and believable. I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens next with his story.

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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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