Reviewed by David Maclaine
1356 brings back the hero of the Grail Quest series. Readers who know both their history and the series will understand at once why the hard-fighting archer has returned. Thomas of Hookton is now a knight leading a band of mercenaries from a small lordship he holds at the edge of Gascony. His adventures retrieving an unlikeable count's runaway wife spin into a satisfying flurry of small-scale tactics when Thomas is enlisted in a quest for another holy relic. This time, it's the sword of St. Peter, which draws murderous prelates, including an old enemy, into collision with Thomas and those he loves. This latest MacGuffin serves mostly to keep the characters busy until they can be steered toward the impending big event: Cornwell’s recreation of the Battle of Poitiers. Cornwell's main claim to fame is his ability to write engaging, well-researched retellings of some of history’s most famous battles. Having previously tackled Crecy and Agincourt, he could hardly ignore the third in the set of famous English victories in the Hundred Years War.
Once again we are treated to a detailed account of the special qualities and careful construction of the English longbow and the laborious training of archers that made the longbow the super-weapon of the late Middle Ages. An assortment of characters take turns moving the story along, included an ambitious bishop, a skillful tournament knight who has made a vow of purity, a troubled Scotsman, and a stupefyingly beautiful woman. A fierce Scottish warrior loyal to the Earl of Douglas fulfills his stereotypical role so perfectly he made me laugh out loud. But the characters exist mostly to draw us into Cornwell’s version of the big battle. That culmination is well portrayed, perhaps with more authenticity than in Conan Doyle's The White Company, but only those of us with a serious interest in old campaigns will want to take this journey to 1356. (2012, 417 pages)More about 1356 at Powell's Books or Amazon.com