Fans of Cornwell’s Grail Quest series will recognize the main character from that series, Thomas of Hookton, in this stand-alone novel. He is once again the main character in 1356, a novel that builds up to the Battle of Poitiers in September 1356.
Thomas and his band of Hellequin—feared English archers and men-at-arms—are raiding and destroying the countryside near Gascony as part of the English strategy in the Hundred Years’ War. He is given orders to find a holy relic said to be near Poitiers. Rumored to be the sword of St. Peter, “la Malice” is supposed to make anyone who possesses it invincible. The English want the sword, but the French want it, too, and one ambitious cardinal in particular.
As Thomas and his men make their way to Poitiers to find “la Malice,” all of France seems to be bracing itself for another battle with the English. The Scots, who have sided with the French, are try convince the reluctant King Jean to go to battle, while Prince Edward of England itches for a fight.
Eventually, the two sides clash in the countryside near Poitiers, and Thomas and his men are there to help the badly outnumbered English army. However, someone has found “la Malice,” and the person who holds it may decide the outcome of the battle.
1356 is action-packed, to be sure, but it is also very detailed and graphic. Cornwell does not sugarcoat the horrors of war. It is clear that though this is a fictional work, he did meticulous research into the type of armor and weaponry used, as well as what those weapons were capable of doing to human flesh and bone (and horses, too).
Historical fiction lovers can find much to appreciate in 1356, but it’s not for the squeamish. It’s a fascinating take on a battle that history has largely forgotten. Cornwell’s novel is definitely worth a read.