The Week in Books 2009, No. 13

I don’t know how Bernard Cornwell manages to put out a thoroughly researched historical novel every year. It’s amazing really, because they are quite good books. In fact, I think Cornwell writes battle scenes better than any other author I’ve ever read. His latest book, Agincourt: A Novel, tells the story of that epic battle of the 15th century from the perspective of an English archer.

Whereas some historical fiction is overly romantic (in the sense that the characters and life scenes are described as being clean and having straight teeth and whatnot), you won’t find much of that in Cornwell’s books. He’s big on realism, which is one of his strengths. The fact is, knights in shining armor didn’t bathe a lot, battles were gory and the ravages of 15th century war were not pleasant. Cornwell does a good job of weaving his research and considerable knowledge of the time period into the story with good details that give the reader a sense of what life was like then, without overwhelming the narrative or bogging the pace of the story down.

I don’t think Agincourt: A Novel is Cornwell’s best work (his Arthur series and Saxon series were better), but it’s certainly a page turner and worth your time if you’re interested in British history, like battle scenes, and can take (or overlook) gritty war and pillaging details.

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