agincourt There is a review in the WSJ today by Ron Maxwell (who wrote the Gettysburg and Gods & Generals screenplays) of Bernard Cornwell’s latest foray into historickal fiction, this time focusing on the Battle of Agincourt as seen through the eyes of an English bowman:

With his novel “Agincourt,” Bernard Cornwell leads us into this world with the hypnotic skill of an old seer seated about an ancient campfire. Of course Shakespeare, with “Henry V,” has already taken us on this journey, as seen through the eyes of England’s young king. Mr. Cornwell selects for his protagonist a man as lowly as the king is exalted, as powerless as the king is omnipotent. By the end of this gripping novel we understand that it was the common soldier — personified by a man named Nick Hook in Mr. Cornwell’s telling — who embodied the English character and in large measure determined the outcome of its military adventures. Revealing as well is the fact that Hook is exceptionally skilled at a particular kind of warfare — shooting arrows with a longbow.

Anyone who has ever held a bow and arrow will savor Mr. Cornwell’s affectionate descriptions of designing, crafting, maintaining, transporting and fighting with this weapon. He emphasizes that it was the English archer who often made the critical difference in 15th-century battle. He was trained from youth to develop the muscles of his arms, chest and back in order to acquire the reserves of strength to repeatedly draw a bowstring that most strong men could barely pull half-way — and trained as well in the art of guiding the arrow’s flight to his prey.

I would be inclined to pick up this book purely out of interest in the mechanics of longbow archery, but I’m a bit dubious about Mr. Cornwell’s “hypnotic skills”.  Indeed, I have to admit that I find his storytelling style to be somewhat hit or miss:  As fond as I am of dipping into his Richard Sharpe series from time to time, the stock almost-superhuman villains;  arrogant shhnobs and dastardly double-crosser within the Allied ranks; and strong, ravishing heroines all start blurring together after a while.  And I have found the samples of his Stonehenge and Saxon series I have tried to be border-line funny in an unintentional way.

Certainly not in the same league as, say, Patrick O’Brian or George MacDonald Fraser.

Still, as I say, I’ll probably pick up the book anyway……..