Bernard Cornwell is without question the best and most prolific historical novelist working in English today. In addition to the 20+ Richard Sharpe novels, many of which have been made into television programs, Cornwell has written about the Viking invasions of Britain during the reign of Alfred the Great (the Saxon Tales), about the Arthurian legends (The Warlord Chronicles), about the American Revolution (the Nathaniel Starbuck Chronicles). And there are more, nearly fifty novels in all.
This book brings back Thomas of Hookton, a character from Cornwell’s earlier Grail Quest Series. Thomas is an archer and the leader of the Hellequin, a band of mercenaries, archers all, fighting for the Prince of Wales, the legendary Black Prince, during the Hundred Years War. Thomas is also trying to protect himself and his lover from a cruel priest who wishes to burn them both at the stake for their supposed heresy, and at the same time he is trying to find and destroy the sword supposedly used by Saint Peter to slice of Roman ear when Christ was arrest in Gethsemane. The cruel priest wants the sword because he believes it has magical powers. Thomas wants it to destroy it, as he had done earlier with the holy grail.
All this eventually leads to the Battle of Poitiers, fought in 1356. Poitiers, largely forgotten today, perhaps because Shakespeare didn’t write about it, is one of three great battles of the Hundred Years War won by the English. And nobody on the planet writes battle scenes the way Bernard Cornwell does. So all in all, 1356 is an engaging read, a book hard to put down.