Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Review - Bernard CORNWELL – “Azincourt”

Publ: 2008
Pensby Library
ISBN: 978 0 00 727122 1
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 453pp plus a lot of addenda
Cornwell is one of my favourite authors
Rating: ***** *****

What led you to pick up this book?
Cornwell is one of my favourite authors. Add that to seeing the great cover in the local bookshop and this was an automatic read.

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
The Battle of Agincourt was an English battle against a much larger French army in the Hundred Years' War. The battle occurred in a muddy field on Friday 25 October 1415 (Saint Crispin's Day), in northern France. Henry V led his troops into battle and actually participated in hand to hand fighting. The battle is notable for the use of the English longbow, which Henry used in very large numbers, with longbowmen forming the vast majority of his army. The battle is the centrepiece of the play Henry V, by William Shakespeare.
This novel centres around the activities of just one of those longbowmen, Nick Hook. It is the first novel to have been written about Agincourt for a hundred years and is a worthy work to hold that title.

What did you think of the characters and style?

Great characterisation and, of course, one of the best historical novelist styles in the present era. Cornwell makes it quite feasible that Hook, a common archer, interacts with the king and some of the lords of the land whilst retaining his simple attitude to life.

What did you like most about the book?
For once I’m going to say the end and not mean that insultingly! The novel itself is followed by a number of addenda – a historical note; comments on the longbow; Shakespeare’s Henry V speech; the Agincourt Carol; and a conversation between Bernard Cornwell and Mark Urban that gives an insight into the way the author’s mind worked and the reason he chose to take the novel in the direction he did.

Was there anything you didn't like about the book?
It finished all too soon...

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
A great piece of simple but effective artwork by Larry Rostant.

Would I recommend it?
Absolutely. An essential part of the historical fiction reader’s bookshelves.

Quotations (from the Cornwell / Urban conversation and the end note on the longbow):
“...archers are not peasants. As you said, they’re yeomen. They have a certain level of prosperity, I mean, many of them have trades. And they practise by law, there was actually a law passed that actually forbade football which seems very sensible considering how it’s turned out. Because it took people away from practising archery.”
“if you have a rifle, and you line up back-sight, fore-sight and Frenchman, pull the trigger, the world is suddenly a better place. But you can do it with the eye, right. You are aiming with the eye. With a longbow you draw it to the ear so the arrow is in fact slanting across your vision.... The arrow is pointing to his left and it was necessary to learn how to compensate for that offset. So shooting a longbow becomes an instinctive process in which the brain makes a calculation about range and offset, and that calculation only came with a lot of experience.”

Bernard CORNWELL see Sword Song


  1. Sounds like the grail quest series. I was certain that included the battle of Agincourt, but have obviously misremembered (I wonder how often I do that when thinking about a book I've read). Is Nick Hook any relation to Thomas of Hookton?

  2. Can't wait to read it.

    I've also got The Burning Land (Alfred the Great 5) in my Amazon basket, but I haven't bought it yet!

  3. No Helen, Cornwell took the names of all the characters from a genuine list of the archers and combatants at Agincourt. Can't recall if Grail Quest included Agincourt but if so it presumably wasn't a whole novel about the one battle which, efffectively this is (allowing for the necessary build up about the pricipal charcacter and the English campaign).

  4. The grail quest series was the battle of Crecy not agincourt, though historically its seems to be same battle played all over again.(I'm not blaming Bernard im blaming us English and the French).

    This is a great book and to my mind better than the Grail quest series.

    Anyway for more information about Bernard's work and especially he sharpe serie you can try the site Sharpes Books


Hello folks - your comments are always welcome.