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. Now, the author does comment in his afterward that there was no nobility in the fighting of a desperate battle, and he is right, but what about the rest of the time? Did the nobility really take advantage of women--and I mean take advantage in the most thorough sense--at every opportunity? Isn't this exactly the opposite of what the chivalraic code stood for in the first place? Here is Sir Simon, when asked why he is in the French camp. "Money, food, land, women," he says. Well, the author makes it clear that Sir Simon is a bad, bad man, but still, not ONE of these nobles ever talks of honor, which is, after all, what the nobility is supposed to be about.
Our hero, separated from the army, meets, then rescues a French countess. They spend an idyllic month or two wandering around the French countryside, sleeping in abandoned huts and having sex. Yes, they are lovers. Their religion doesn't seem to get in the way of this, nor does the fact that she might, you know, get pregnant, nor does the fact that they are both acting dishonorably, nor does the fact that he is from a social class which is significantly inferior to hers. Is this really the 14th century? It sure doesn't look like it to me.
Look, if you like Clive Cussler, Jeffrey Archer, or Ken Follett, by all means, read this. I'm sure you'll be enthralled.
But if you really want to know about the Middle Ages, forget this junk. For realistic adventure, read Doyle's White Company, or Sir Nigel, or The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. If you're looking for strict realism, read Zoe Oldenbourg. But this thing, bleeeeeaackhh.