Beset by the plague and those hellacious Dominican inquisitors, the sure-shot hero of Cornwell’s Archer series (Vagabond, 2002, etc.) continues his eventful search for the Holy Grail.
Armed with his own Weapon of Mass Destruction, the deadly English longbow Thomas Hookton, né (on the wrong side of the sheets) Vexille, has made it through the battle of Crecy and torture at the hands of a Dominican madman, comforted by a succession of equally tough and healthy young ladies, to arrive at last in the Languedoc, the southern French country where the Vexilles, before falling into the Cathar heresy, were lords of Astarac and where the few clues left by Thomas’s father seem to lead to the holy relic. Accompanied by Robbie Douglas, the tough young Scot he rescued in Vagabond and by landless, one-eyed, Norman turncoat Sir Guillaume D’Evecque, and backed by his own posse of longbowmen, Thomas has seized the stronghold of Castillon d’Arbazon in order to lure his ruthless crypto-Cathar cousin Guy Vexille to the neighborhood. Guy and Thomas each believe the other holds the clues to the location of the Grail that everybody is sure the Vexilles held and hid. Everybody, that is, except the spectacularly cynical Cardinal Archbishop Louis Bessieres, who has imprisoned a gifted Parisian goldsmith and his doxy with orders to run up a state-of-the-art fake, which, once planted and then “discovered,” will put the Cardinal in the papal throne at Avignon. There is, of course, a lovely lass for Tom in Castillon d’Arbazon. She’s Genevieve, scheduled for burning by a creepy fanatic priest who decided, after some lustful torture, that she’s a heretic. Lissome, blond, and a quick student of the crossbow, Genevieve, property of the devil though she may be, is just the gal for our archer, and together they take on the Cardinal, Guy, the local baron, and any number of Genoese crossbowmen, and, as the Black Plague arrives, get their hands on the box that leads to the cup of everyone’s dreams.
The usual Cornwell bull’s-eye.