Azincourt By Bernard Cornwell

Published by Harper Collins

In his bloodthirsty epic Azincourt, Bernard Cornwell takes us right into the dark and bloody heart of battle as two mismatched sides fight in a field on St Crispin’s Day in 1415 to settle who should be the rightful King of France.

Agincourt (or Azincourt as the French spelling has it) is one of the most famous of all English battles when a vastly outnumber army of 1000 men at arms and 5000 archers took on 30,000 French soldiers. The legend that is the English bowman has long since fascinated Cornwell, his Grail Quest series followed young Thomas Hookton through a whole series of battles that culminated in the English victory against the French at Crecy. Here Nicholas Hook, no relation to Hookton, is born to be an archer but his family’s long running feud with the neighbouring Perrill family threatens to see him hung before he has even drawn a bow in battle. After tangling with them once too often Hook finds himself an outlaw and is forced to seek out a role as a mercenary in France where he witnesses the horrors of the sacking of Soissons. After rescuing beautiful French girl Melisande Hook is taken under the wing of Sir John Cornwaille – one of the leading lights in King Henry V’s army.

From there the pace is relentless as Henry, who believes God is on his side and that the French crown should also be his, gathers his forces to first attack the French town of Harfleur and then, after being bogged down in a disastrous and long winded seige of the town, moving on to the devastating final battle at Azincourt. The whole book naturally enough is about the build up to this battle which takes up at least the last 100 pages, Cornwell puts us firmly in the middle of the action, told from all sides and with all its mud and blood and guts and horrors, never before has war seemed so horrifically vivid. Cornwell is a consumate storyteller too though so we have subplots involving Hook’s deadly fight with the Perrills, most of whom are also archers for King Henry and the machinations of the evil priest Sir Martin who has his eyes on Hook’s girl Melisande.

A superb journey into a legendary battle.