The first in an epic new series, introducing a splendid hero, against the background of Europe in the Hundred Years’ War.
In the fourteenth century the English were just beginning to discover their national identity, and one of the strongest elements of this was the overwhelming success in battle of the English bowmen.
England’s archers crossed the Channel to lay a country to waste. Thomas of Hookton was one of those archers. When his village is sacked by French raiders, he escapes from his father’s ambition to become a wild youth who delights in the opportunities which war offers – for fighting, for revenge and for friendship.
But Thomas is hounded by his conscience. He has made a promise to God to retrieve a relic stolen in the raid from Hookton’s church. The search for the relic leads him into a world where lovers become enemies, enemies become friends and always, somewhere beyond the horizon that is smeared with the smoke of fires set by the rampaging English army, a terrible enemy awaits him.
That enemy would harness the power of Christendom’s greatest relic – the grail itself. In this, the first book of a new series, Thomas begins the quest that will lead him through the fields of France, until at last the two armies face each other on a hillside near the village of Crecy.
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Harlequins are lost souls, so loved by the devil that he would not take them to hell, but left them to roam the earth. In French the word is hellequin – the name given to the English archers who crossed the Channel to lay a country to waste.
Thomas of Hookton is one of those archers. When his village is sacked by French raiders, he makes a promise to God: to retrieve the relic stolen from Hookton’s church. Escaping his father’s ambitions, he becomes a wild youth who delights in the life of an army on the warpath.
Driven by his conscience and protected by his fearsome skills, he enters a world where lovers become enemies and enemies become friends, where his only certainty is that somewhere, beyond a horizon smeared with the smoke of fires set by the rampaging English army, a terrible enemy awaits him. This enemy would harness the power of Chistendom’s greatest relic: the Grail itself.
Here, in the first book of a new series, the quest begins. It leads him through the fields of France, to the village of Crecy where two great armies meet on the hillside to do battle.Review:
Following the phenomenal success of the Sharpe novels set in the Napoleonic Wars, Bernard Cornwell has turned his storytelling talents to another great moment in English history, the Hundred Years War between England and France throughout the 14th century. Harlequin is the first book in Cornwell's Grail Quest series, which chronicles the adventures of young Thomas of Hookton, "a big, bony, black-haired country boy". Thomas rejects the church in favour of the life of an archer in France after his village is brutally sacked by the French. The young Thomas fights back against the French with his bow, and "in that one instant, as the first arrow slid into the sky, he knew he wanted nothing more from life". He vows to seek revenge on the plains of France, and recover the holy relic of St. George stolen from his village by the sinister "harlequin" with whose destiny Thomas finds himself inextricably entwined. The rest of the action moves at a hectic pace across the violent and bloody battlefields of northern France, as Thomas falls for a beautiful French widow nicknamed "the Blackbird", makes a mortal enemy of the "poor, bitter and ambitious" Sir Simon Jekyll, and follows the ensign of King Edward III and his heroic son, the Black Prince. Harlequin is a fast-paced and graphic recreation of the Hundred Years War, despite a rather gratuitous fixation on rape and pillage. The action comes thick and fast, although it remains to be seen if Thomas of Hookton has the wit and flair of Cornwell's other great heroic creation, Richard Sharpe. -- Jerry Brotton
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