Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Agincourt is one of the epic battles of history. It was fought by two badly matched armies that met in atrocious conditions on St Crispin’s Day 1415, and resulted in an extraordinary victory that was celebrated in England long before Shakespeare immortalised it in Henry V. It has always been held to be the triumph of the longbow against the armoured knight, and of the common man against the feudal aristocrat, but those are history’s myths. Bernard Cornwell, who has long wanted to write this story, depicts the reality behind the myths.
Nicholas Hook is an English archer. He seems born to trouble and, when his lord orders him to London as part of a force sent to quell an expected Lollard uprising, Nick’s headstrong behaviour leads to him being proscribed an outlaw. He finds refuge across the Channel, part of an English mercenary force protecting the town of Soissons against the French. What happened at the Siege of Soissons shocked all Europe, and propels Nick back to England where he is enrolled in the archer companyof the doughty Sir John Cornwaille, a leader of Henry V’s army. The army was superb, but sickness and the unexpected French defiance at Harfleur, reduce it to near-shambolic condition. Henry stubbornly refuses to accept defeat and, in appalling weather, leads his shrunken force to what appears to be inevitable disaster.
I saw this book being recommended by many people so, looking for good his-fic, I decided to give it a chance. It wasn’t a bad novel, far from it, but I got a feeling the author, for a reason or two, stopped mid-way between something mediocre and something truly brilliant.
On the one hand you get Nick Hook, a protagonist which could have been really good – well-rounded, properly complex, defying simple pigeon-holing. Could have been. The idea behind that character was great but then the action overtook all attempts at making Nick an interesting man to follow. Near the end of the book Nick turned into another bland puppet archer who was supposed to take part in the battle at Azincourt and survive it to tell tales. The same can be said about Henry V, his sovereign. There were several moments when I said to myself: “oh, great, the English king will be good!” and then, somehow, that character fizzled out into nothing. It was never explained properly why that king condemned his own subjects, the lollards, to death but was so very valiant facing the people from Harfleur. The author didn’t even try to touch the strange religious devotion of Henry, full of many delightful contradictions definitely worth exploring.
Finally don’t let me even start to carp about Monsieur de Lanfernelle, the gorgeous father of the divine Melisande, who was just ludicrously artificial, a character composed of most obvious cliches, or the provenience of ‘voices’ Nick heard in his head.
I also have to admit the ending dragged and dragged forever but I have to add that the battle scenes, although gory and gross, were done very well.
It could have been a really good book but it is a firm ‘meh’. Pity.