Sunday, 11 October 2009

Bernard Cornwell: Azincourt

Cornwell is the current master of historical fiction. It seems that there is no period of history that he is unable to bring to life for the entertainment of the thrill seeker, whilst still remaining true enough to historical fact to satisfy the more pedantic reader. His Nathan Starbuck quartet, set during the American Civil War, are a case in point. As one who is particularly interested in this episode of history, I found the books absorbing in every aspect.

Azincourt is no exception to the Cornwell formula. Following the fortunes of Nick Hook, a young forester, the book tells the story of this epic battle through the eyes of a footsoldier; an archer in the army of King Henry V.

In the buildup we learn of the relationships between Lord and Serf, and Cornwell even manages to include a fascinating chapter on the persecution of the Lollards, so-called heretics who challenged many of the practices of the Catholic church. His hero, Hook, is present at the slaughter of Lollards in the City of London, and it is this brief but engaging episode, with its description of the brutality of London life at that time, that led me to include a review of the book here.

Fiction overlaps with both history and social commentary in this work. As is his custom, Cornwell acknowledges those areas where he has taken advantage of his right to artistic license, and it would be a fussy reader indeed who found cause for criticism therein. There was actually a Nick Hook on the roll of the English army on that glorious day in 1415.

No novel has been written about the battle for a century - this may be long overdue, but it makes up for the wait. 8/10

Bernard Cornwell (2008). Azincourt. Harper Collins, London.

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