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1356    by Bernard Cornwell order for
by Bernard Cornwell
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Harper, 2012 (2012)
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* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Archer Thomas of Hookton, aka le Batard, makes his fourth appearance in this latest historical adventure by Bernard Cornwell. You might remember Thomas from Heretic, Vagaband, and The Archer's Tale, the three novels in the Grail Quest series.

It is 1356 and Edward, Prince of Whales (the Black Prince), is set to take on the French on their home turf. Thomas and his band of bowmen and men at arms have been charged with the task of finding the lost sword of Saint Peter, a blade with mystical powers that is purportedly hidden away near Poitiers.

Because la Malice will grant victory to whomever possesses it, the French are also seeking out the weapon that St. Peter used in Gethsemane to slice off the ear of the High Priest's servant on the night of Christ's arrest.

Possession of this mystical talisman may well spell victory or defeat for either side in the upcoming conflict. Thomas's quest will be one fraught with violence and betrayal, but the stakes are too high to accept anything but success.

Often forgotten or overlooked in accounts of the Hundred Years' War, the Battle of Poitiers pitted an outnumbered English army against a vastly superior French force. In defeating an army almost twice its size, the British contingent not only captured a key French position but also the French leader, King John II. Taken prisoner, John the Good, as he was known, was spirited off across the English Channel where he was held for ransom.

This fictionalized account of the medieval battle and the chevauchee style of warfare employed by the English makes for a riveting read. As Cornwell explained when discussing why he focused on Poitiers, this is 'a magnificent story, unfairly forgotten, but worth remembering.'

With the publication of 1356 the author has done his part to refocus attention on a very pivotal encounter in this drawn-out conflict between France and England, that stretched from 1337 to 1453.

If you enjoy historical fiction, this is a must read and one you'll greatly relish from cover to cover.

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