An archer on the lam from a bum rap in his county ships out with Henry V to test his shooting and slashing skills at one of the bloodiest but most glorious battles in history.
Cornwell (Sword Song, 2008, etc.), having dealt in gorgeous detail with the role of the longbow at Crecy in his three-volume Archer series, effectively laid the groundwork for this single-volume assessment of the great victory at Agincourt. The hero this time is Nicholas Hood, easily the best archer in his neighborhood, but stuck like his younger brother at the bottom of the local food chain even though he is probably the bastard child of the local squire Lord Slayton. The Hood family was cursed by the evil Perrill family, and the two clans have been feuding for generations. The Perrills, with assistance from dastardly priest Sir Martin, frame the Hooks with a capital crime, forcing Nicholas to leave for London, then ship out for France in the King’s forces. Across the channel he is witness to slaughter and treachery at the siege of Soissons, where, following emergency prayers to St. Crispin and St. Crispinian, he acquires their saintly protection and advice as well as the companionship of lovely local lass Melisande, bastard daughter of one of the greatest French warriors. There is barely time to rest before Nicholas and Melisande ship out again, this time with the King and his expeditionary force. Prince Hal hopes to reclaim his French crown, but his strategy runs afoul of steely resistance by the defenders of the Seine port Harfleur. What was to have been a walkover turns into a long siege in which dysentery claims as many victims as battle. The finally victorious but much depleted English force, instead of calling it a day, heads under Henry toward Calais, a march that draws the attention of the vastly larger French army and finally leads to battle in the sodden fields outside the village the French call Azincourt.
The usual splendid stuff from the master of historical battle. There’s a bit of deus ex machina, but it’s tolerable.