The last review I did was on the historical fiction novel The Archer’s Tale by Bernard Cornwell, and I thought I would go ahead and finish out the series before moving on to other books.
Vagabond is the second installment in The Grail Quest Series by Bernard Cornwell, and the story continues with Thomas of Hookton during the Hundred Years War as he searches for the true heritage of his family, which is somehow connected to the grail. King Edward III of England learns of Thomas’ connection to the grail, and he sends Thomas on a mission to find it. The grail is believed to possess unimaginable power, and there are many who are seeking this power, including his cousin and bitter rival Count of Astarc Guy Vexville as well as a bloodthirsty Dominican Inquisitor.
Vagabond, like The Archer’s Tale, is full of sweeping battles that evoke all the senses, and as always, Cornwell’s historical details of medieval society are accurate and vivid. The first major battle is the Battle of Neville’s Cross in which the Scots invade northern England while the the majority of the English army is away in France, and the ending battle sequence takes place back in France at La Roche Derrien. Both scenes are equally captivating.
Cornwell also does a fantastic job with his characters and dialogue. After the Battle of Neville’s Cross, Thomas joins up with a Scotsman, who stays with Thomas for the remainder of book two and into book three (Heretic). The Scotsman’s dialogue is quite crude and salty at times, though realistic given he is a medieval soldier, and his character also provides humor to the narrative. Thomas’ serious nature offsets this humor and creates an interesting relationship between the two. The Scotsman became one of my favorite characters in the series.
If you’re looking for historical fiction with a love story, Vagabond probably isn’t the best choice. In any of the Cornwell books I’ve read, he has never made the love interest a major part of the story. If you’re looking for historical fiction with epic battles, adventure, flawed characters, engaging dialogue, and accurate medieval details, The Grail Quest series is a great place to start. No one re-creates medieval Europe as well as Bernard Cornwell.