I love Bernard Cornwell’s books. People who know me frequently reel back in awe of my historical knowledge. At least I assume that’s what they’re reeling back from. This knowledge is largely due to authors like Cornwell, George MacDonald Fraser, Simon Scarrow, Patrick O’Brian and numerous others. I love writers that can bring a time period alive while still remaining accurate. Azincourt is one such book – it even has historians praising it in the cover review section. Cornwell is without a doubt the acknowledged historical fiction master and this is pretty masterful stuff.
By the way, just in case you didn’t know, Azincourt is how the place is spelt in France. The British have been mis-spelling it for 600 years.
You’re reeling already aren’t you?
Nearly everything I knew about Agincourt/Azincourt came from Shakespeare’s Henry V. A weakened English/Welsh army ends a war campaign in France and is trapped on its way home by an army of vastly superior numbers. About 6000 disease ridden British troops against 30,000 fresh and healthy Frenchmen. You can probably guess who won. If this was fiction you’d cry ‘Bollocks!’
Cornwell’s genius is letting you see accurately described battles from the point of view of the common soldier. You are in the lines with the common troops. Plus they are really gory and violent, which is always a bonus. Some people have complained about this, particularly with this book, but some people are stupid. The title of the book is a famous battle. The fact that it is violent should be a given. You can vivdly imagine how horrendous the conditions were as the troops literally shit their pants and get their limbs cut off, eyes gounged out and at one point – manhoods sliced off and fed to them. People complain the world is in a right old state now but it really, really sucked back then.
If you’re the sort of person inclined to read this sort of thing, you are probably already aware of the outcome. As with most of Cornwell’s stuff, it doesn’t really matter. You like (or loathe) the vivid main characters and will be eager to see what happens next. The plot will seem fairly familiar if you read a lot of his books but I personally didn’t find it detrimental. I still wanted to see how it all panned out. You will too. Trust me in this.
I loved Azincourt and also enjoyed the fact that it is a one-off. Cornwell tends to write epic series of books and as I’m in the middle of three others it was a relief not to get into another. If you like spot-on history, relentless action, brutal battles, and powerful characters reacting against a background of events that shocked the medieval world, you will like this too. If not, I hear Bridget Jones is quite good.