Saturday, 5 February 2011

Azincourt - Bernard Cornwell, 2008

What is Azincourt, you may ask?

According to Bernard Cornwell, there had been too many books about the battle of Agincourt, England's most unlikely military victory, named Agincourt for him to follow the trend. Instead the somewhat obscure title is the French name for the infamous region.

Clearly a labour of love for the author, it tells the story of one Nicholas Hook, from lowly peasant to leader of men as King Henry V's seemingly doomed campaign to assert his claim to the French crown steers his life inexorably towards disaster.

Anyone who has picked up a Bernard Cornwell novel before will recognise a very familiar structure - low-born man overcomes enemies both foreign and amongst his own ranks as he rises in rank, ultimately culminating in a climactic battle. But with Cornwell the formulaic plotting can be forgiven because the book is rich in historical detail and he has a keen eye for the daily lives of the men in the trenches.

The book fairly whips along, and the finale is both cathartic and also somewhat gruelling. With an English army of only 6000 overwhelmed by a French host of 30000 the battle is epic both in scope and in length, with the final third of the novel devoted to this climactic confrontation. Cornwell also doesn't flinch from the grue either, so readers of more delicate dispositions would be advised to look elsewhere.

There is also a nice "Special Features" section in the back of the book, with the standard Bernard Cornwell "Historical Note" section, where he admits where he has taken liberties with the facts for dramatic purposes. It is a testament to his skills as an author that these are usually fairly few. There is also an interview with the author and some interesting information on the history of the Longbow, without which the English would never have survived Agincourt.

Overall, this is an excellent historical novel. Cornwell has created a tightly-plotted account of England's most precarious military victory and I highly recommend it as long as you can put up with the slightly formulaic plot-structure and bucket-loads of medieval hardware killing people in inventive ways.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds pretty good, I might have to give this a read. I like medieval books and films :)