Azincourt is the French spelling of Agincourt, known widely as a shocking loss for the French against the English in the Hundred Years’ War. Bernard Cornwell imagines the lead-up to the battle here focusing again on an archer, Nicholas Hook, who serves as our lens looking in on the wider struggle, ending with the monumental battle itself. We all know the ending, but Cornwell still manages to make it suspenseful as we never know who will live and who will die.
As usual, the battles are the best thing about Cornwell’s writing. He makes us feel like we’re there, or at least that we could have been there in a past life. He underscores the extraordinary importance of archers with their longbows, the single greatest advantage that the English had against the French here and during many other battles in this lengthy on-and-off war. I should also mention that the priests are corrupt and the good one is not as religious as you’d expect a priest to be, so another warning for those of us who are devout Christians and prefer not to have their reading slander their religion unfairly.
Cornwell’s third person narration is a bit different from his first person fare, most of what I’ve been reading lately. It feels colder and it’s much harder to get into the characters’ heads. As such, Hook and Melisande remain very distant from the reader throughout the novel. Hook is a bit humbler than Cornwell’s normal male heroes, but of course he is still the best. In all, this feels very much like the Grail Quest trilogy, and as I believe Hook is related to Thomas of Hookton, that’s not entirely a surprise. Still, I think I prefer his first person narrators, arrogant and similar as they all are. The books feel more human with a fully fleshed out narrator.
I enjoyed it, but I’d definitely recommend his Arthurian trilogy or Saxon Chronicles first. I feel this one may only be for fans of Cornwell or those of us who like to read about the more violent side of the Middle Ages. Pre-order this book on Amazon.