Wednesday, July 10, 2013


{From the author's website:}
Thomas of Hookton, a veteran of Crecy and many other battles, is the leader of a mercenary company of bowmen and men-at-arms who ravage the countryside east of Gascony.
Edward, Prince of Wales, later to be known as the Black Prince, is assembling an army to fight the French once more but before Thomas can join, he must fulfil an urgent task.
A fascinating hero and the pursuit of a sword with mythical power,thought to be concealed somewhere near Poitiers – Go with God and fight like the Devil….in 1356.

Is it just me or are the summer days flying by faster than they used to? I've just returned home from a trip across the country, having spent some time in a cabin which allowed for some time to finish 1356, Bernard Cornwell's novel about...well it isn't really about that year per se; there is a significant battle (Poitiers) taking place but story-wise it wouldn't really matter whether it was set in 1356 or 1362. Because it is fiction, with medieval history - and that famous battle - as the backdrop. The author makes it clear in an afterword what was real and what he invented, which made it clear that most of the interesting stuff (aside from said battle) was mostly invented. 
And it is a nice book to read, and I believe that fans of A Song of Ice and Fire will find Cornwell a stimulating read, especially if you're a fan of the medieval side of Martin's story-telling. There are knights, there are somewhat-outlawed-but-cool-good-bad-guys (the Hellequin), chivalry and not-so-chivalrous acts, insidious scheming, torture, and so on and so forth - the stuff that inspired Martin in the first place. 
It is not nearly as well-written as Martin's books, though - at times it reads like a lecture, and Cornwell doesn't use the limited first person POV Martin excels at - and which I miss when I read stuff like this. For example, the main character is a likable enough rogue, but Thomas of Hookton never really comes alive the way, say, Jaime Lannister does, because we only scratch the surface of the characters in 1356, never really getting into them, if you know what I mean. Instead, the author flits through characters at will, presenting their thoughts when necessary (sometimes it gets confusing) - its the same style (I believe they call it omniscient?) as the Forgotten Realms books I've been reading and it's really jarring when you've gotten used to the styles employed by Martin, Abercrombie, Rothfuss, Erikson et al (yes they differ in style but somehow they convey character so much more efficiently).
In the end, the book will probably satisfy medieval history fans more than Ice and Fire fans (maybe); still, the framework of this work would have been so nice to see written in Martin's prose (sans the endless food descriptions). A recommended read, then. It could easily have delved deeper into character and plot, it's rather short (at least if you're used to fantasy) but at the same time it gives a good look at medieval times. 


  1. You should read Maurice Druon's historical novel series The Accursed Kings, which was a major inspiration for GRRM. The first six of the seven books in the series have been translated from the original French into English.

  2. Saxon series by Bernard Cornwell is written from a single PoV and it is really good. It is the part of early medieval history I don't know much about so it is an interesting read.