The most prolific military historical novelist of our day, Bernard Cornwell, targets one of the lesser known battles of history, the English defeat of the French at Poitiers, in his latest work, "1356." (HarperCollins, 417 pages)
Thomas of Hookton, a solider of fortune dubbed le Batard by his enemies for his ferocity and cunning, is on a quest to find the sword of St. Peter which is believed to convey invincibility to the one who possesses it.
But the sword is also sought by the evil Cardinal Bessieres, Archbishop of Livorno and Papal Legate to the throne of France, who aspires to be the next Pope.
Thomas, who had cast the mythical Holy Grail into the ocean, to prevent it from falling into the hands of men willing to commit vicious acts in the name of God, is determined to spare the human race from facing this sword.
In this riveting knight's tale, Hookton must launch a daring rescue of his wife, Genevieve, a convicted heretic whom the Cardinal intend to have burned at the stake.
Through the fictitious character of Cardinal Bessieres, Cornwell brilliantly captures the dark side of the late Middle Ages when the Papal Inquisition ruled and heresy was stomped without mercy.
His command of military history, medieval armaments and tactics make for fascinating, though at times, difficult reading as the battle scenes are so vivid they may remind the reader of Spielberg's recent masterpiece "War Horse."
For though war is hell for humans, it is especially so for the poor horses plunged into military service who often become the prime targets of the opposing force.
Cornwell is more than a military writer, his adventure stories include interesting characters. Thomas' strong-willed and outspoken wife, Genevieve, is a refreshing liberated Renaissance woman. The little Irishman, Keane, whose gift of gab and love of women make him a poor candidate for monastic life but an hilarious addition to Hookton's army of Hellequins.
Having tackled the Napoleonic wars and the epic battle of Agincourt, Bernard Cornwell sets his pen to describing another of the great clashes between the English and the French, as he recreates the victorious conquest of Edward, the Prince of Wales, over the French King Jean at Poitiers in the year "1356."