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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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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars how did I miss this? Feb. 3 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Another great historical event turned into a wonderful story. Highly recommended if you like the genre. Onto the next now then...
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5.0 out of 5 stars Harlequin Jan. 30 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I am a real fan of historical fiction and Bernard Cornwell never fails to keep me engrossed in his novels. Great book to read for anyone who is not out off by the gorey details of Medieval battles. His character development is excellent and the story riveting.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Anachronistic Archer April 25 2002
If you're looking for a pretty good adventure tale and don't really care about historical detail or learning anything new about the middle ages, you'll probaby enjoy this book. But if you like your historical fiction with a little depth, a little insight, or that which causes you to rethink your assumptions having to do with the long-ago time you are reading about, stay away from this one. Stay away from this one like the plague.
It is the story of Thomas, an English archer, and his involvement with the English army in France during the several months leading up to and then at the famous battle of Crecy in 1346. Based on what I know, it is historically accurate. The campaign and the battle took place pretty much as the author describes it. Historically, the battle was significant because it proved that infantry could be used, in combination with archers, to defeat disciplined cavalry units.
The battle scenes themselves are terrific. There is a load of graphic blood and gore, and the author is very knowledgable about weapons and tactics and armor and that sort of thing. The last thirty or forty pages of the book, the battle itself, are very exciting.
But it is the leading-up-to which leaves a lot to be desired. People in the middle-ages were very poorly educated. Only a very few could read or write, and all were riddled with superstition, fear and stupidity. There is no sense of that in this book. The Catholic church was dominant, and most men were in dreadful fear of it. There is no sense of that in this book either.
The nobility portrayed here are venal and vicious. There is no sense anywhere of the chivalraic code.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Bloody Great... literally March 10 2011
By Zarioc
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 years war between France and England. The brutality between the two nations was especially brutal. Once the Oriflamme (Paris' Red Banner of St.Dennis) was risen in battle the French would take no prisoners. Not to ruin the story too much but the battle at the final climax of the novel gives a surprising and unexpected victor to one of those sides of the war. Would it be the Conquesting English who would win against an incredible force against them or the many nights, crossbowmen, and men at arms with their beloved Oriflamme of the French who victor over the other.

Read the novel and discover for yourself; dont take my word for the talent of Bernard Cornwell, for he is an author one should discover for themselves, and should be a household name in some years.

In Nomine Sathanas,
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Archer's Tale Jan. 6 2004
If you enjoy entertaining medieval story telling, then this is the first of a trilogy for you. I happened upon B.C.'s books while browsing a store so I had no preconceived notions about this author. I can say that his historical fiction paints a bleak but fascinating picture of life in the 14th century.
Thomas, the main character, has a full life with his duty, oaths, and personal quest. His attitude, character development, and trials make him a likeable hero.
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Most recent customer reviews
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°
3.0 out of 5 stars Going Medieval
This violent, action-packed adventure is the first installment in what looks to be Bernard Cornwell's new Richard Sharpe-type series. Read more
Published on May 12 2003 by A. Casalino
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 Emotions of War Not That Different
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... Read more
Published on Feb. 9 2003 by Tim Smith
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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