Bernard Cornwell | Azincourt

Amid the storm, the mud, the slaughter and the courage, a great victory was born.

Bernard Cornwell is first and foremost a historian which is one of the reasons (I think) that makes him such a fantastic author of historical dramas. And we all know I love me some historical dramas! This is the first book of his that I have read and I can quite easily say that I will be reading more. I picked these books up from Barter Books a few weeks ago you may remember from my epic book haul! It's taken me a bit longer than I would have liked to get through it because I've lacked some time for reading but I have finally finished it and I am so impressed.

"Our enemy have threatened to cut off the fingers of every Englishman who draws a bow!"

The battle of Azincourt is listed as one of the five greatest battles in English history. We've all heard of the Azincourt salute and that just shows how influential this battle was in our history. This book follows an archer called Nick Hook on his journey from being a forester on an estate, to fighting at Soissons to becoming part of King Henry V's army and fighting the fields of Azincourt. We all know that Azincourt was won on the back of the English' formidable archers and I love that the main character is an archer. I think this is a crucial point. He rescues a french nun called Melisande and ends up marrying her and taking her with him on his journey. She is a strong willed woman who plays a vital role of emotional stability for Nick.

The fact that Nick Hook is a common  person really adds weight to the story. So many historical dramas are based around aristocracy and nobility. The main reason for this being it was these people that were educated and so kept journals, wrote letters, had paintings commissioned of themselves. The common people tended not to be remembered through history and this makes it difficult to write about them. Cornwell was able to create Nick Hook and create a character that you can really root for. Nick is not perfect. He has crooked tendencies and this ongoing family feud which means he has murderous tendencies too, but you can over look this. His love for Melisande and his loyalty to his comrades makes you forget all of  his faults. After all, he is just a product of his time and this comes across really well.

Cornwell's writing is absolutely fantastic. He keeps you guessing at every turn. During the climactic battle scenes, you flit between the characters and he keeps you on top of the events that are happening simultaneously. You think a character has fallen to his doom...then he springs back again a few paragraphs later. I really do love this style of writing. I cannot stand it when an author feels compelled to kill off all your favourite characters and you end a book with a feeling of despair. This does not happen in this book. I'm trying not to reveal spoilers here...but let's face it, everyone knows what happened at Azincourt. You are left with a feeling of elation and ...YEAH!!

One of my favourite parts of the book, was the rousing speech that King Henry gives just before the big battle commences. One of the things I've always had a problem with throughout history is kings, dukes, emperors, leaders who force others to fight for them while they sit on a hill watching slaughter. That is not true leadership. If you expect others to die for you then you should get in the fray and crack on with it yourself too (hence why I'm such a fan of our Lizzie). King Henry V stands shoulder to shoulder with his subjects and gives a fantastic rousing speech that gets them all geared up, and proud to be British. I will quite happily admit that this rousing speech brought a tear to my eye. It was beautiful.
"...this day I am no more than you and I am no less than you. This day I fight for you and pledge you my life!"
"If you die here, I die here!"
"All that I ask is that you fight for me this day as I will fight for you!"
Just a few quotes from the epic speech. It's truly moving. Heck, I have no idea if the real Henry V did give this speech or any kind of speech, but if he had given one like this I would have picked up a bow and fought for saint George!

The book is incredibly graphic in places. Language is absolute foul! I suppose this is done deliberately to demonstrate to us that these are common folk that we're following. This is not some well bred member of the aristocracy, this is a common labourer who grew up in a shack being beaten by his grandmother. Swearing is just a part of everyday life. Also, diarrhoea, there is a lot of diarrhoea.

The only bit of the book I did not like is the part where Nick's brother Michael gets hanged for theft, which is a crime he did not commit. I feel like the King was too quick to jump to conclusions and just believe what he was being told in this instance. England is supposed to be the land of fair trial, but just because they were at war he felt that it wasn't necessary. And what also wasn't necessary was that it took him twenty minutes to die. Nuh uh. Not cool.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who generally enjoys action writing, historical fiction, and books about military manoeuvres. I learned so much about medieval battle tactics, weapons, horses, clothing and general life. I know I can trust it because Cornwell is a historical genius. Also, I learned some new words such as ebullient which means enthusiastic or full of energy.

Have any of you folks read this book? Or any others of Cornwells? What are your thoughts?

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I aim to post two - three book reviews a month. Keep checking back to hear what books I've been reading. I enjoy historical dramas, crime fiction and many other genres. For more regular updates follow me on goodreads.

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