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Grail Quest Harlequin [Paperback]

Bernard Cornwell
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 27 2001 The Grail Quest (Book 1)

Harlequins are lost souls, so loved by the devil that he would not take them to hell, but left them to roam the earth. In French, the word is hellequin – the name given to the English archers who crossed the Channel to lay waste the towns and countryside.

Thomas of Hookton is one of those archers. When his village is sacked by French raiders, he makes a promise to God: to retrieve the relic stolen from Hookton's church. Escaping his father's ambitions, he becomes a wild youth who delights in the life of an army on the warpath.

Driven by his conscience and protected by his fearsome skills, he enters a world where lovers become enemies and enemies become friends, where his only certainty is that somewhere, beyond a horizon smeared with the smoke of fires set by the rampaging English army, a terrible enemy awaits him. This enemy would harness the power of Chistendom's greatest relic: the Grail itself.

Here, in the first book of a new series, the quest begins. It leads him through the fields of France, to the village of Crecy where two great armies meet on the hillside to do battle.


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From Amazon

Following the phenomenal success of the Sharpe novels set in the Napoleonic Wars, Bernard Cornwell has turned his storytelling talents to another great moment in English history, the Hundred Years War between England and France throughout the 14th century. Harlequin is the first book in Cornwell's Grail Quest series, which chronicles the adventures of young Thomas of Hookton, "a big, bony, black-haired country boy". Thomas rejects the church in favour of the life of an archer in France after his village is brutally sacked by the French. The young Thomas fights back against the French with his bow, and "in that one instant, as the first arrow slid into the sky, he knew he wanted nothing more from life". He vows to seek revenge on the plains of France, and recover the holy relic of St. George stolen from his village by the sinister "harlequin" with whose destiny Thomas finds himself inextricably entwined. The rest of the action moves at a hectic pace across the violent and bloody battlefields of northern France, as Thomas falls for a beautiful French widow nicknamed "the Blackbird", makes a mortal enemy of the "poor, bitter and ambitious" Sir Simon Jekyll, and follows the ensign of King Edward III and his heroic son, the Black Prince. Harlequin is a fast-paced and graphic recreation of the Hundred Years War, despite a rather gratuitous fixation on rape and pillage. The action comes thick and fast, although it remains to be seen if Thomas of Hookton has the wit and flair of Cornwell's other great heroic creation, Richard Sharpe. --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

The young archer Thomas of Hookton joins the forces of King Edward III to fight against France in Cornwell's latest, which takes place in the mid-14th century at the beginning of the Hundred Years War. Thomas, a brilliant, handsome warrior who combines physical strength and skill with the bow, survives the pillaging of his village to become an archer and then rescues a female counterpart known as the Blackbird after she's nearly raped by Sir Simon Jekyll during one of the troop's raids in France. The nobleman becomes Thomas's chief rival as Jekyll continues to pursue the Blackbird, and Thomas is finally cast out of his unit after failing to kill Jekyll in an ill-conceived assassination attempt. He recovers to join and couple with the Blackbird, making his way through France and parlaying his skills into a royal pardon even as his opportunistic partner leaves him for the libidinous Prince of Wales. The three members of Cornwell's romantic triangle eventually meet during a huge climactic battle at Cr‚cy, where Thomas must face up to a demanding family legacy involving a quest for a special lance. Cornwell has been down this path many times before, and he's a consummate pro when it comes to plying the tried-and-true combination of heroic characters; a fast-moving, action-packed plot; and enough twists and turns to keep the narrative from lapsing into formula. He uses his historical expertise judiciously as well. This book mark the beginning of a promising new series that brings an intriguing period to life. (Oct. 9)Forecast: Cornwell, the author of the Richard Sharpe series, set during the Napoleonic Wars, has a strong and growing U.S. fan base. The Archer's Tale, already a bestseller in Britain, should strengthen his hold on the Patrick O'Brian crowd.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Bernard Cornwell (the Richard Sharpe series, the Starbuck series) is a master of historical fiction, and "The Archer's Tale" is his first foray into the early years of the Hundred Years War between England and France.
"The Archer's Tale" opens with a horrifyingly brutish assault by the French on the small village of Hookton, which protects a mighty relic through its tiny size and complete lack of importance. The relic, the black lance used by St. George to slay the Dragon, is seized by the Harlequin, and the town razed. The Harlequin also kills his uncle, an old priest with a murky past. Cornwell's description of the destruction and rape of Hookton is masterful in its economy and its clarity -- this book quickly establishes that it is not for the squeamish!
Thomas, the archer, escapes the sack of Hookton through his mastery of the bow, which is the dominant military weapon of the era (the late 1300's). Contrary to common perception, archers were not the small wimps who hung out in the rear while the mighty swordsmen and cavalry fought the battles. An archer was fantastically strong owing to years of stringing their mighty bows, and Thomas is an archer's archer. He vows revenge on the man who has brought destruction to Hookton.
Possessing more lives than a cat, Thomas journeys to France and plays a crucial role in the sack of a French village. Earning the respect, love, or hatred of those whom he encounters (he inspires strong feelings, does our Thomas), Thomas uses his wits, his skill with a bow, a good head for warfare, and just plain blind luck to journey from battle to battle, from siege to siege.
Cornwell brings the Middle Ages alive with his vivid descriptions of life in small villages as well as his depiction of the mighty French city of Caen.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Going Medieval May 12 2003
Format:Hardcover
This violent, action-packed adventure is the first installment in what looks to be Bernard Cornwell's new Richard Sharpe-type series. Though the Sharpe series is fairly well known and very easy to find, I cannot claim to have read any of those books, and so cannot make any comparisons. This is, in fact, the first Cornwell book I've ever read. I had hoped to be introduced to this author through his novel, STONEHENGE, as it had me somewhat intrigued, but alas that was not to be my fate. I'd already had THE ARCHER'S TALE in my possession, and so I went to reading it. Now, more than a few months since having finished it, I very well suspect it was a poor choice to begin on.
This story is set in England and France during the 14th century, the early beginnings of the Hundred Years War. The hero is Thomas of Hookton, bastard son of an expatriate French nobleman living in a small village along the southern coast of England. After that village is brutally attacked by French invaders and all its inhabitants, save Thomas, are killed, Thomas enlists himself as an archer in the English army of Edward III.
In his quest to recover the lance of St. George, a sacred relic stolen from Hookton's church during the attack, Thomas refines his skills in archery and battle strategy. Throughout the story, it is in fact he who conceives key attack maneuvers that gain the English under the Earl of Northampton their victories, culminating finally with the famous battle at Crecy. Along the way, he rescues a widowed French countess from wolfish English soldiers sacking her village. He nurses her through trauma and, for a while, she becomes his cohort.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Emotions of War Not That Different Feb. 9 2003
Format:Hardcover
A young man living in the 14th century is challenged by his dying father to retrieve a mysterious and holy treasure stolen by an evil enigmatic marauder who had joined in the killing and destruction of the only village Thomas of Hookton had ever known. Thus the stage is set for Bernard Cornwell to educate and entertain readers about life during the political and barbaric power struggle between France and England at the start of The Hundred Years War.
Besides being an exciting and dramatic story, Cornwell brings to life what was for me prior to this book, a vague and boring era found in high school history books. Cornwell describes knights and their squires, archers and cross-bowmen and the tactics of war. Even though vastly different than modern war, he is able to show the emotional similarities to the modern soldier and to confirm the notion that mankind really hasn't changed that much. The emotions of fear, jealousy, love and hatred remain powerful drives found at the root of most struggles. The plot, setting, character development, and dialogue are all used to bring history during the Middle Ages to life, not only the chivalry and gallantry of knighthood, but also the brutal and viscious destruction found on the primitive battlefields.
I loved this book and recommend it to anyone with a need for excitement set in a time and place unfamiliar to most of us.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Bullseye! Nov. 29 2002
Format:Hardcover
I thought this was an outstanding start to a new series by Bernard Cornwell. I'd grown a little bored of Richard Sharpe, and the Civil War series never captured my attention the way this one has. He's starting from the beginning here with his eighteen year old protaganist, Thomas of Hookton. The book was filled with fascinating historical details. One review here castigated the author for not showing that the middle ages were "riddled with superstition, fear and stupidity," But I think Cornwell does clearly show the superstitions, and fears of the ordinary people, while the degree of stupidity in the middle ages is undoubtly the same as the degree of stupidity today. While Thomas is more educated and skeptical than many of his peers this is explained by his unique background.

I was a little disappointed with one of his female characters, Eleanor. She seemed bland and empty, her only use to be a foil for the other female character, the countess. Eleanor, if we judge from the Sharpe series, is also doomed, probably to die from illness (for historical accuracy) or from the hands of his enemies (to add to his hatred.)
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars how did I miss this?
Another great historical event turned into a wonderful story. Highly recommended if you like the genre. Onto the next now then...
Published 8 months ago by Andrew Davies
5.0 out of 5 stars Harlequin
I am a real fan of historical fiction and Bernard Cornwell never fails to keep me engrossed in his novels. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Lewispat
5.0 out of 5 stars Bloody Great... literally
I found that Bernard Cornwells "Harlequin" was an exceptional piece of fine literature. It offered an entertaining and vivid view of how men fought during the time of the hundred... Read more
Published on March 10 2011 by Zarioc
5.0 out of 5 stars The Archer's Tale
If you enjoy entertaining medieval story telling, then this is the first of a trilogy for you. I happened upon B.C. Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2004 by "kbohashi"
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a bulls-eye, but definately worth the time.
Having been recommended this one by a friend, I only had a week to read this before I gave it back. It didn't take a week, nor did it even take a day or two. Read more
Published on May 12 2003 by Ian D. Larson
4.0 out of 5 stars a better sequel?
i found this to be better than the sharpe novels. we've got a man whose village is attacked. he swears to find and bring back a holy lance. Read more
Published on May 12 2003 by jan erik storeb°
4.0 out of 5 stars Playing For All The Marbles
This book, like Colleen McCullough's series on the Masters of Rome, illustrates how brutal we humans can be when there is no rule of law to allow us to settle our differences by... Read more
Published on March 3 2003 by Peter L. Swinford
5.0 out of 5 stars A great start to a new series
I have been a fan of Bernard Cornwell's books ever since Winter King. His books are all gritty, realistic portrayals of a very different world that we live in. Read more
Published on Feb. 11 2003 by "tongkl"
5.0 out of 5 stars Ever wondered what it was like to live in the MIddle Ages??
This was one heck of a book. Cornwell did very good research on this time period even down to the weather. Read more
Published on Jan. 28 2003 by Photopro
5.0 out of 5 stars As always, historical fiction as it is meant to be
Meticulous research, excellent details on the life of the people living in this time (the Hundred Years War,) and a fascinating hero and villain (I have to say I actaly liked the... Read more
Published on Jan. 17 2003
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