Saturday, 10 January 2009
Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell
THE British love their battles, and once Shakespeare got his teeth into Agincourt (or Azincourt as the French and Bernard Cornwell call it), they hold their manhood cheap if they don't remember St Crispin's Day 1415.
Azincourt is a thriller about the battle that ended the feudal world.
Cornwell's hero, Nick Hook, is a serf, the unacknowledged son of his local lord. His family have a vendetta with the sons - also conceived through droit de seigneur - of the local priest.
Outlawed after punching the priest, ace archer Nick becomes a mercenary, and lives through a famous massacre at Soissons.
He fights his way (accompanied by an ex-nun, Sarah, another aristocratic offshoot) through the closing battles of the Hundred Years' War, until the culminating row at Agincourt, when a tiny English army used the super-weapon of English archery plus French mud to defeat the flower of French chivalry.
Azincourt is gripping, and meticulously researched. Virtually every character is a historical person.
It's selling like crazy, and should, though it has a touch of the Chinese meal about it - you're completely pulled in as you read, but can be strangely dissatisfied after you close it.
But if you want a Christmas book that will take you out of the world of 2008 and recession, this is it.