Once again Bernard Cornwell transports the reader to the Hundred Years War with Agincourt. As you can surmise from the title, the novel centers around the Battle of Agincourt, when on October 25 of 1415, a ragged, starved and outnumbered English army of 6,000 men faced off against 30,000 French soldiers. The French were well-rested. They were a seasoned army of knights and men-at-arms. But the one element the French did not have were longbowmen. And the English army had plenty.
The narrative follows the life of one of these longbowmen, Nicholas Hook. Hook is a wanted man in England for a confrontation he has with a rapist-priest, and so he joins Henry V’s army to escape being hanged. The story progresses through two sieges, one at Harfleur and the other at Soissons, and finishes with the ending battle at Agincourt. As always, Cornwell does a brilliant job with his research and describing the battle scenes.
Regarding the characters, most in this novel are pretty forgettable. Cornwell spends a lot of time with Hook of course, since he is the main character, and he does spend more time on the main love interest, Melisande, than in some of his past medieval novels, which is nice. The main antagonists are the rapist-priest, two brothers who harbor a long-standing family feud with Hook’s family, and Melisande’s father. The priest and the brothers have zero redeeming qualities, but Melisande’s father is rounded out a bit by the end. Nick’s closest friends, his longbowmen companions, are secondary and do not play much of role besides throwing in bits of dialogue here and there. Hook’s lord, John of Cornwaille, is a likeable character, and I would have preferred to see more of him.
Overall, for pure historical reference and vivid, epic battles, this novel is an enjoyable read. If you prefer stronger characters, I would recommend some of Cornwell’s other novels like his Saxon series, his Arthurian saga, or even the Grail Quest series.
My rating: 4 stars.