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Agincourtby Bernard Cornwell
Synopses & Reviews
"The greatest writer of historical adventures today" (Washington Post) tackles his richest, most thrilling subject yet — the heroic tale of Agincourt.
Young Nicholas Hook is dogged by a cursed past — haunted by what he has failed to do and banished for what he has done. A wanted man in England, he is driven to fight as a mercenary archer in France, where he finds two things he can love: his instincts as a fighting man, and a girl in trouble. Together they survive the notorious massacre at Soissons, an event that shocks all Christendom. With no options left, Hook heads home to England, where his capture means certain death. Instead he is discovered by the young King of England — Henry V himself — and by royal command he takes up the longbow again and dons the cross of Saint George. Hook returns to France as part of the superb army Henry leads in his quest to claim the French crown. But after the English campaign suffers devastating early losses, it becomes clear that Hook and his fellow archers are their king's last resort in a desperate fight against an enemy more daunting than they could ever have imagined.
One of the most dramatic victories in British history, the battle of Agincourt — immortalized by Shakespeare in Henry V — pitted undermanned and overwhelmed English forces against a French army determined to keep their crown out of Henry's hands. Here Bernard Cornwell resurrects the legend of the battle and the "band of brothers" who fought it on October 25, 1415. An epic of redemption, Agincourt follows a commoner, a king, and a nation's entire army on an improbable mission to test the will of God and reclaim what is rightfully theirs. From the disasters at the siege of Harfleur to the horrors of the field of Agincourt, this exhilarating story of survival and slaughter is at once a brilliant work of history and a triumph of imagination — Bernard Cornwell at his best.
"A literary veteran of the Napoleonic Wars and the U.S. Civil War, Cornwell returns to the Hundred Years War era in this action-packed if slightly melodramatic epic about King Henry V and the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Nicholas Hook, an English forester, is on the run after interfering with a rapist priest and ends up a mercenary defender at Soissons, where he saves a young and beautiful novitiate, Melisande. With his French prize in tow, he returns to England and signs on with Henry's army as an archer. Back on French soil, he fights and slogs his way to Agincourt, where 6,000 Englishmen confront 30,000 French soldiers. Hearing the voice of St. Crispinian whispering to him in times of personal crisis, Hook has his hands full with the French and defending himself from the vengeance-seeking rapist priest and Melisande's father. The crisply rendered battle scenes are adrenaline rushes of blood, thunder and clashing swords that transport the reader back to the early 15th century. Unfortunately, Hook's Hollywood-ready construction undercuts the 'you are there' feeling of Cornwell's otherwise vivid recreation of Henry V's greatest military triumph." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
In Bernard Cornwell's Hobbesian vision of 15th-century England, almost everyone is nasty, brutish and short. Nicholas Hook, the hero of "Agincourt," is at least tall, though as matter-of-fact about violence and murder as everyone else. This is a book for those who like nonstop action, preferably drenched in blood, mud and bad language. As the title suggests, "Agincourt" takes an... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) in-depth look at one of the best-documented and — thanks to Shakespeare — most famous battles in early English history. Like all good historical fiction, though, the political background and historical incidents in the novel play out through the perspective of the main character — in this case, the fictional Nick Hook, archer extraordinaire and unlikely confidant of saints. The action starts with the first line: "On a winter's day in 1413, just before Christmas, Nicholas Hook decided to commit murder." From there, Cornwell riffs through a fast first chapter that sets up an ongoing conflict with a wicked priest and his two illegitimate sons. Nick gets sent to London as an archer, where he's obliged to help hang heretics, and ends up in France, to help King Henry V pursue his claim to the French throne. It's a long and bloody way to Agincourt, beginning with the fall of Soissons, whose aftermath is one of the nastiest — because true — tales of betrayal and cruelty in the annals of military warfare. Nick escapes the fate of his fellow archers and in the process saves a French novice from rape. He also escapes the town, with the intercession of two saints, Crispin and Crispinian, the patrons of Soissons, whose voices pop into his head at opportune moments throughout the book. Whether the saints approve of Nick's rescue of the girl or have taken offense at the slaughter of their town's residents, no one knows — certainly not Nick, though he's humbly grateful for the help. The personal aspects of Nick's story are executed in Cornwell's hallmark style: logical, well-constructed, deftly paced and brief, so that we can get back to the hacking, eyeball-gouging and blood-squirting without too much delay. All the characters are drawn with quick, vivid strokes, but largely in two dimensions. The real star of the show is the final battle, which is carried out in such painstaking detail that you can feel the liquid — you should hope it's only sweat — trickling down the inside of your armor. One of Cornwell's many authentic touches is that none of the soldiers knows or cares why he's in France. They've been sent to kill Frenchmen. This is their job; plunder and ransom are what's on everyone's mind, with rape a close third. (Aside from Nick's grandmother, there's only one female character in the book who doesn't either suffer rape or narrowly escape it.) If the king says God has given him the French throne, that's good enough for these soldiers. Cornwell's use of Saint Crispin and his brother is a clever touch, tying the fall of Soissons into a progression of military action that takes us through the siege of Harfleur and on to the final unlikely battle on Saint Crispin's Day. The tiny English force overcomes a French army four times larger — in the process echoing Shakespeare's famous speech from "Henry V," though such stirring words are never spoken on Cornwell's bloody ground. "God's blood, William, but this is joy!" is probably the most eloquent speech given during this version of the battle. It's spoken by Sir John Cornewaille, an actual participant in the battle, but no relation to the novel's author, though Cornwell obviously has great affection for him; Cornewaille is monomaniacal but has more true life to him than most of the other characters. Beyond the saints' unlikely intercessions in Nick's private life, Cornwell handles religion reasonably well. Too many historical novels are written from a modern secular-humanist viewpoint, which assumes that religion is and always has been a scam and that its practitioners must be either cynical or naive, the clergy either exploiters or feckless fools. Cornwell does have an insane rapist priest, but he carefully includes a decent one as well, and on the whole, manages to show a time in which religion and its references were part of the fabric of life for the common man. In fact, Cornwell's historical accuracy is excellent throughout, and he gracefully acknowledges his sources in an interesting "Historical Note" at the end. Agincourt isn't a glorious battle; you see every mud-clogged, blood-soaked inch of the field and smell the sweat and excrement of the archers, knights and foot soldiers who fought for those hard-won inches. But when the fighting's over, you're left with a sense of awe at what was done there, and admiration for the men who did it. Reviewed by Diana Gabaldon, who is the author, most recently, of 'Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade', Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"The usual splendid stuff from the master of historical battle." Kirkus Reviews
"This fine stand-alone from the author of the multivolume Sharpe novels and the Saxon Tales is a must-read for fans of authentically detailed historical fiction who like their battle scenes drawn with realistically bold, brutal, and bloody strokes." Booklist
"[T]his novel never feels inflated or meandering and perfectly captures the spirit of 15th-century Europe. Most impressive, Cornwell has produced a military adventure with a subtle but powerful antiwar tone, filled with dramatic battle scenes that unsparingly convey the horrors and futility of the Agincourt campaign." Library journal
One of England's most dramatic victories, the battle of Agincourt is more than just history; it was immortalized by Shakespeare in Henry V. Cornwell, the greatest writer of historical adventures today (Washington Post) tackles this most thrilling and rich subject.
Bernard Cornwell, the New York Times bestselling “reigning king of historical fiction” (USA Today), tackles his most thrilling, rich, and enthralling subject yet—the heroic tale of
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About the Author
Bernard Cornwell is the author of the acclaimed and bestselling Saxon Tales, as well as the Richard Sharpe novels, among many others. He lives with his wife on Cape Cod.
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