Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell – Book Review [Bane of Kings]
Bane of Kings writes a review of the novel Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell, king of all things historical fiction. This standalone tale by Cornwell narrates the famous Battle of Azincourt, fought on October 25th 1415 (St Crispin’s Day), and is published by Harper Collins. Or at least, the edition used for this review was.
“A bloody, gritty novel that brings the Battle of Azincourt to life. Cornwell weaves a wonderful novel that you won’t want to put down.” ~The Founding Fields
Note: This novel is titled Agincourt in the USA.
I’ve been recently introduced to the legend that is Bernard Cornwell through his Sharpe series. Although I’ve only read Sharpe’s Tiger, I’ve seen the TV series with Sean Bean in them and found them to be pretty interesting, and I have been meaning to check out his non-Sharpe novels for a while now. Ever since I brought Azincourt in a supermarket recently, I knew it was going to be read and reviewed soon. And as it turns out, Azincourt is one of the best historical fiction novels that I’ve had the pleasure of reading, although – unfortunately, it’s not without its flaws.
Bernard Cornwell has been thinking about this subject for years. He has long wanted to write a book about a single battle, the events that lead up to it, the actual days in the battle and the aftermath from multiple viewpoints.
Agincourt, fought on October 25th 1415, on St Crispin’s Day, is one of the best known battles, in part through the brilliant depiction of it in Shakespeare’s Henry V, in part because it was a brilliant and unexpected English victory and in part because it was the first battle won by the use of the longbow. This was a weapon developed in this form only by the English – parishes were forced to train boys from as young as eight daily – and enabled them to dominate the European battlefields for the rest of the century.
Lively historical characters abound on all sides but in Bernard Cornwell’s hands the fictional characters, horsemen, archers, nobles, peasants are authentic and vivid, and the hour by hour view of the battle is dramatic and gripping.
Azincourt is a wonderful read. It’s gritty, dark and action-packed. The novel’s best part is clearly the battles, and Cornwell demonstrates his skill at writing them well. You can’t get any better writer at battles in the medieval ages than Bernard Cornwell, as he makes the reader feel like we’re there, fighting with the main characters, struggling against the French. The author has done his research well and I didn’t notice any glaring historical inaccuracies, which is always a good thing when you’re reading Historical Fiction. Although the actual battle of Azincourt doesn’t take place until the latter half of the novel, it’s worth the wait, and when it hits, it hits with a bang. You get to see everybody from King Henry V of England from Nicholas Hook, common Archer and the main protagonist of this novel in action, and Cornwell has written the tale superbly well.
The novel is told in third person which allows for multiple narratives and a look into characters from both the British and the French side (although the focus is mainly on the British), and the only real problem is with this is it’s much harder to get into the main characters heads. From what I saw in the Sharpe TV series, we get a similar formula used for the plot here, except only in Azincourt, and not in the Napoleonic Wars. A common soldier. Check. Aforementioned common soldier will fight heroically in every battle, and often emerge on top. Check. We get a love interest for the same common soldier. Check. In this case it’s Melisande. However, whilst this may be a similar format to what fans of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series will be used to, it’s done so well that you won’t care about this. Cornwell’s tale is action-packed, and the pace manages to be kept consistently all the way through. I have a feeling that Cornwell fans will have brought Azincourt already, but I don’t know why I’ve put this off for so long. I believe my next purchase from this author will be The Fort, as I’ve wanted to read more about the American Revolutionary War for a while now.
The author doesn’t shy away from the blood and the gore elements of the battle, and we’re reminded just how unpleasant that the middle ages was. The novel moves along at a fast pace, and we get a variety of action sequences in order to keep the reader entertained. Although Cornwell could have made us feel more attached to our characters and perhaps developed them more, Azincourt still manages to be an engaging read. The next novel written by Cornwell, which I will no doubt be buying as well, is titled 1356 and is released in September this year, published by Harper Collins in the UK, and tells the story of the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, an area of history which I know very little about.
The Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell: Sharpe’s Tiger, Sharpe’s Triumph, Sharpe’s Fortress, Sharpe’s Trafalgar, Sharpe’s Prey, Sharpe’s Rifles, Sharpe’s Havoc, Sharpe’s Eagle, Sharpe’s Gold, Sharpe’s Escape, Sharpe’s Fury, Sharpe’s Battle, Sharpe’s Company, Sharpe’s Sword, Sharpe’s Skirmish (Short Story), Sharpe’s Enemy, Sharpe’s Honour, Sharpe’s Regiment, Sharpe’s Christmas (Two Short Stories), Sharpe’s Siege, Sharpe’s Revenge, Sharpe’s Waterloo, Sharpe’s Ransom, Sharpe’s Devil.