Harper, Hardcover, 2009
Trade Paper edition available December 29, 2009
On October 25, 1415 King Henry V led 6,000 archers and men-at-arms against a French force of 30,000 at Agincourt—and won. According to Cornwell's notes, only Hastings, Waterloo, Trafalgar, and Crécy rival Agincourt in renown. It is a gore-fest even by Cornwell's standards, and I don't recommend it for those with sensitive constitutions.
Unlike many of the English-French sweep-and-plunder skirmishes during the Hundred Years War, Henry's purpose was to "rightfully" regain the crown of France. Despite the odds against him, Henry never faltered in his belief that he would win because God told him so. From page 395:
"Henry of England was filled by a God-given joy. Never, in all his life, had he felt closer to God, and he almost pitied the men who came to be killed for they were being killed by God."
That quote bothered me because how many millions of people have died over the ages because of the same belief?
Cornwell, as usual, uses a fictional character for intrigue, to carry the story, and to have access to the bigwigs for strategy and whatnot. In Agincourt it is Nick Hook, a master archer. Anyone who has read the Grail Quest series will notice a lot of duplication about archers in this book and will be reminded of Cornwell's excellent description of the battle of Crécy.
The battle of Agincourt (Azincourt in French), does not take place until the last quarter of the book. In addition to the story's set-up and some dawdling by Cornwell, the majority of the book is about the siege of Harfleur in Normandy. Expecting a swift victory over the small walled city, the French fought brilliantly for over two weeks—decimating many of Henry's force with cannon, tunnels, and dysentery. To me, the siege of Harfleur was as interesting as the title battle.
Overall, this stand-alone book is a Cornwell festival and will please fans of historic battles and strategy.
[A belated thank you to Harper Books for the advance finished copy]
* * * * *
COMING January 19, 2010:
The Burning Land, Bernard Cornwell
Harper Books, Hardcover
This is the fifth book in the Saxon Chronicles series.