The Grail Quest: 1356 by Bernard Cornwell – Book Review [Bane of Kings]


Bane of Kings writes a review on the fourth novel (although it can be read as a standalone, like I did) in the Grail Quest series written by historical fiction supremo Bernard Cornwell, 1356, published by Harper Collins in the UK.

“A bloody, brilliant book that can be enjoyed by anyone. My favourite historical fiction author writes another strong entry in a great setting and delivers a great read that was one of my favourite novels of 2012.” ~The Founding Fields

I need to read more Bernard Cornwell. I know my brother’s a huge fan, owning most of his Sharpe books, and I read and enjoyed the first of that series and have seen the TV show  with Sean Bean (which was awesome – and ladies and gentlemen, we have also found something in it where Sean Bean doesn’t die), as well as his novel Azincourt. If 1356 is anything to go by then Bernard Cornwell has still got what it takes, and even though this book wasn’t perfect, the author himself is still the king of historical fiction followed closely in my book by Simon Scarrow, author of the Eagle series. And the best part is about this book is that it can be read without reading the previous novels in the series as well – like I found out whilst I was reading it.

Go with God and Fight Like the Devil. A fascinating hero and the pursuit of a sword with mythical power – this is the remarkable new novel by Britain’s master storyteller, which culminates at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356.

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.

La Malice, a sword of mythical power guaranteeing victory to its owner, is thought to be concealed somewhere near Poitiers. With signs that a battle between the English and the French is looming others are seeking the treasure too, and some – French, Scots and even English – are pursuing their private agendas against Thomas.

But all – Thomas of Hookton, his enemies and friends and the fate of La Malice – become swept up in the extraordinary confrontation that follows, as the large French army faces the heavily outnumbered English in battle.

Obviously, the novel is set in the year 1356 and deals with the leading up to the Battle of Poitiers, famous for being  a battle that I knew absolutely nothing about before coming into this book, and I was glad to see that Cornwell managed to hook me in and keep me there, as well as providing an educational look into the battle with his vivid descriptions, strong characters and a masterful understanding of medieval action.

One of Cornwell’s strengths is that 1356 is not his first medieval novel. He’s written loads, and the other that I’ve read, Azincourt (which was fantastic, by the way), was equally as engrossing as 1356.  Cornwell has used his experience to accomplish what other writers struggle to do, and that is not only write a novel in this period well, but write it realistically. In fact, my only complaint with the novel itself was that the finale was a bit rushed, but aside from that - 1356 was a cracking read.

The characters are strong and memorable, and whilst it is not Thomas of Hookton’s first outing, I hope that 1356 won’t be his last. Whilst he’s in a similar character to the ones which Cornwell regularly puts out, he’s a strong lead and although the whole story is not told through his point of view, as it’s narrated in 3rd person with varying perspectives much like all of Cornwell’s work, this is a scenario where we’re actually benefited by the multiple 3rd person POV, as the author allows us to get a look into two different sides of the battle as well as how civilians lives are affected as well.

This novel is awesome. Even though the battle may be rushed, I still really enjoyed it and will certainly look forward to anymore novels that Cornwell puts out based on the fact that he’s still the best historical fiction author out there. And I’m going to say it, nobody can write historical fiction better than this author – whilst 1356 may not be him at his best, Cornwell when he’s up there can produce a novel that will leave me very close to putting him in my Top 5 favourite authors, the spot that is currently held by the likes of George RR Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson, Iain M. Banks and JRR Tolkien. Cornwell would probably fall in at sixth place, with Jim Butcher, Neil Gaiman and Brent Weeks in there as well, Peter V. Brett  falling in close behind.

Verdict: 4.5/5


Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and a prolific reviewer who can be found on many places on the internet usually under the same username – when he’s not trying to catch up on the many seasons of Supernatural and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.


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