December 2016
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Heretic, Bernard Cornwell

In the final volume of the Grail Quest trilogy, Thomas of Hookton’s journey to find the holy grail takes him deeper into France, where he once again displays the great advantage of being an archer, faces down his cousin for the final time, and discovers that he must follow his heart despite the Church.

This book is really terrific.  I liked it more than the first two – I felt that it absorbed me much more and carried me along the story better.  This may be because it’s the least “tied” to actual history, but it also felt very plausible, except when Thomas risks excommunication for a woman.  The only way I can accept that is if he didn’t really think he’d be excommunicated, which is probably the case.  No medieval person would have risked his soul for someone he barely knew, sweet as the concept is.  Otherwise, it fit right in with my own perceptions of the medieval mindset, right down to the shock of the Black Death, which we still can’t explain.  I can’t say much about the Grail, considering it doesn’t actually exist, but the mechanisms of the quest, the corruption of the Church, and the warfare all really created an excellent view of the medieval world.  Cornwell knows what he’s talking about.

I also really liked the characters at this point.  They’re a bit difficult to like, considering he doesn’t spend much time delving into anyone’s soul except Thomas’s, but I didn’t want them to die and I was sad when the book ended because I enjoyed their company.

I think it’s also pretty important to say that this book isn’t typical medieval historical fiction.  It doesn’t feel like all those trade paperbacks floating around with half-images of girls in fancy dress on the cover.  I like those too, but this is grittier and much more realistic.  Doesn’t focus on royalty, just on how life for regular people, for soldiers, might have been in the Hundred Years’ War.  Lots of warfare – but no honor, no sex, just gritty battlefield realities as we know them.  As such, it’s quite different from the sumptuous lives of royalty, which is what medieval historical fiction authors usually focus on, and I love it even more for that.

Would I recommend this book?  Most certainly!  I’ve got another friend hooked on Bernard Cornwell already.  It could, however, be boring for those out there who don’t love medieval life or who find warfare boring, so I would judge a person’s individual reading taste before I recommended it.

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2 comments to Heretic, Bernard Cornwell

  • I love Bernard Cornwell. He is my favorite author, and the Grail Quest Series was the series that got me hooked on his writing. Have you read any of the Saxon Chronicles? I’ve finished the first two of that series; The Lords of the North is the third book in that installment. Also, I hear the Arthurian series is also a great one, but I haven’t gotten around to reading those yet.

  • Meghan

    I agree, he’s a great author! The Grail Quest series is my first. I have actually just read the first of the Saxon Chronicles, The Last Kingdom, and I already like it better than the Grail Quest trilogy. I’m set on acquiring all of his books, except perhaps the Sharpe series, which is extensive and might be saved for last.