Bernard Cornwell | Harlequin

"The wheel of fortune that had once raised her so high had taken her into the utter depths."

Holy muck on a cracker, this book will chew you up, spit you out and have you begging for a fairy tale. I have NEVER been so gripped with a narrative as I was when reading Harlequin by Bernard Cornwell. I'm on a bit of a Cornwell mission at the moment. This is the third book by him that I have read, I was expecting good things and got GREAT things!

So the story goes like this...
Thomas of Hookton is the bastard son of a priest. His father is raising him to go into the church but Thomas wants nothing more than to be an archer and spends all his spare time practising archery and learning to make bows from his grandfather.
Thomas' father has always been very secretive about his history and who his family are, even keeping it a secret from Thomas. The only thing that he has left from his past is a holy relic, the lance that St George famously killed the dragon with. It is always displayed proudly on the church wall, being taken down every year or so for dusting.
One evening, Thomas is charged with guarding this priceless relic when suddenly strangers from France attack Hookton! Well...strangers to everyone except Thomas' father! Duh duh duuuuuh!!!
The reader reads on as The Priest is brutally murdered by a man known to us only as The Harlequin who then steals this precious relic and reveals that he is a relation of the Priest. This all goes on without Thomas' knowledge so he vows to avenge his father and reclaim the lance, completely oblivious to the fact that he is searching for his own family.
He goes to France and becomes an archer in the English army during the 100 year war (basically a battle for the throne of France, lasted a long time).
Without giving too much away, Thomas makes friends, makes enemies, has lovers, fights in battles and generally has an adventurous time. In the end, we find out that this is about so much more than just a lance. It is an incredible tale! And it's just the first!!!!!!!!!!! Harlequin is the first in a trilogy called The Grail Quest. I cannot wait to get started on Vagabond which is the next book in the trilogy.

Thomas is a really complex character. He would not be able to go on this journey if he hadn't been raised by his father. His father's schooling means that he is learned and well spoken in French and Latin as well as English which helps him no end. He is a perfectionist, spending weeks making his bow perfect and unique to him. He is chivalrous and will put his life on the line for those that he cares about. He is so smart and can read situations perfectly. His battle tactics are sought after by many a higher man than himself. And he quickly is given his own band of archers to lead.

Again, something I always love reading about in Cornwell's books is about period weapons. Medieval weapons are absolutely freaking awesome. The canon, the bows, the crossbows, the different sword types. All things that I love reading about. In fact, halfway through the book I stopped and had a massive argument with my OH about why I would rather be an archer than a crossbowman. Crossbows although they pack a punch, are difficult in a war situation because they take so long to load. An archer can shoot 6 or 7 arrows in the same time it takes a crossbowman to winch back his crossbow and load it. They are also kind of stuck in one area, whereas archers are more mobile. I know which one I'd prefer.

Something I didn't know before reading this book, did you know that Harlequin comes from the french word Hellequin meaning "devil's horseman"? I love stuff like that! It makes the word Harlequin sound so much more formidable to me.

I cannot express enough how much I loved this book. Get it, read it.
I will say though, as per usual, it is very graphic. If raping, pillaging and dying war horses offend you then this book probably isn't for you.

Who else has read this book? Let me know what you think!
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  1. Great review Ellie. It sounds really compelling!

    1. It really is. I am about to go and start on the second book now!


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