The Archer’s Tale (originally released as Harlequin)
© 2001 Bernard Cornwell
In the first decade of the Hundred Years’ War, a French raiding party sacked a small coastal town in England, called “Hookton”. Ordinarily the destruction of this village would be of little note to anyone, but one of its inhabitants — who, with a bow, shot fear into the hearts of the raiders — wants revenge.A sacred relic — the Lance of Saint George, Patron Saint of England — was stolen from Hookton’s church, and he has been tasked with restoring it to England. Thomas’ path takes him to France, where the army of Edward III — King of England, and, if all goes well, King of France — is busy ravaging the countryside in brutal raids called chevauchée. Thomas takes to war happily, but his temper threatens to make him an outcast, making recovery of the relic a necessary act of penance. As he looks for the man who stole the Lance, Thomas discovers his family’s complicated history and is tasked with nothing less than saving all of Christendom by finding the Holy Grail.
The Archer’s Tale is the beginning of Bernard Cornwell’s Grail Quest trilogy. Its conclusion enthralled me last year when I inadvertently read the capstone book (Heretic) out of order, and the medieval setting left me yearning for more. I launched into the Saxon Stories series, which has solidified my interest in Cornwell. The Archer’s Tale does not disappoint, introducing me to the three principle characters of this trilogy while sending young Thomas through some of the early battles of the Hundred Years War — culminating with the Battle of Crécy, in which the French attempt to capture the Prince of Wales. As usual, characterization is strong –Cornwell introduces two strong female characters to toy with Thomas’ emotions, and his relationship with one of the villains makes for fascinating reading. Cornwell also shows off his skill with saturating just a few sentences with drama, especially when he’s about to lead the reader into battle. I’m looking forward to ‘completing’ this trilogy by reading the second book, though I note with concern I am starting to exhaust my library’s complement of Cornwell novels. I’d like very much to read the Warlord Chronicles, but someone appears to have stolen them from my library’s shelves.