Continuing the series that began with The Archer’s Tale (2001), adventure master Cornwell throws his lusty young hero Thomas of Hookton up against both the French and the Inquisition.
Opening with a fine small battle on the Scottish border, Cornwell continues his historically based, wildly entertaining trek through the Hundred Years War, a tale that hangs on the adventures of a superb English bowman at a time when English longbows pretty much ruled the battlefield. Thomas, last seen at the battle of Crecy, has trudged up north with orders from Edward Plantagenet to see a monk in Durham about a legend. The legend is The Grail, and Thomas is involved because his priestly father Ralph de Vexille, a French fugitive, left him a multilingual diary full of references to the sacred vessel. The Vexilles believed they had possession of the cup, and the diary may lead to its recovery. Oxford dropout Thomas can read his father’s Latin and a bit of the Greek, but the Hebrew’s got him stumped. Marching with the lad are his pregnant sweetheart and a kindly monk, both doomed to die at the hands of the divinely sinister Dominican inquisitor Bernard de Taillebourg, who, with his dark and moody servant Guy de Trexille (Thomas’s psychotic cousin), lusts after the diary. Before Thomas can get his answers he’s roped into an English skirmish with raiding Scots. Encouraged by their French allies, the savage northerners have massed in huge numbers, but their drums and battle-axes are no match for the handful of archers Tom joins. Thomas makes an enemy of a nasty bankrupt knight and poor Eleanor falls victim to the sadistic de Taillebourg, but Thomas survives to continue his quest for the grail accompanied by cheerful prisoner Robbie Douglas. Their travels, always just a few steps ahead of the damned Dominican and the jealous Sir Geoffrey, take them to Brittany, scene of earlier romance, where the English have a tenuous toehold and where de Taillebourg has equally perfidious allies. There will be torture, siege, and treachery.
Historically accurate and huge fun. Vintage Cornwell.