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Customer Review

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent adventure, June 23, 2003
This review is from: Harlequin (The Grail Quest, Book 1) (Paperback)
There is an inevitability that any new Cornwall book will be measured against the Sharpe series and the opener of the Grail Quest series, `Harlequin' proves that it is of the same ilk. The novel follows an English archer, Thomas of Hookton, from the destruction of his home town and the murder of his father, Father Ralph, through to the battle of Crecy in 1346. Cornwall moves from battle to battle during a period, now denoted by modern historians as the commencement of the Hundred Years War, during which King Edward III of England waged war through Normandy against Philip VI of France.
Cornwall opens in England with the deliberate sack of Hookton by the French knight-pirate, Sir Guillame and the enigmatic figure of the Harlequin. Their prize is the legendary lance of St George. After this prologue we are swiftly deposited in France where Thomas has become an archer of some note in the English army under the leadership of Will Skeat. We are at the walls of La Roche-Derrien which the English are desperate to storm and eventually manage to do with the guile of Thomas. It is during this period the main characters are established, Thomas' immediate enemy - Sir Simon Jekyll, Jeanette Chemier, Comtesse d'Amorique (though known initially as the Blackbird), niece of Charles de Blois, Father Hobbe - who seems to spend most of time acting as Thomas' conscience in a manner that more befits the slave whispering in the triumphant imperator's ear - Eleanor and an assortment of other minor characters.
So, we move from battle to battle, Thomas saving Jeanette after Charles de Blois takes her son, he flees attempted murder, makes it to Normandy, loses Jeanette to the Prince of Wales (the Black Prince of later legend), finds Sir Guillame, learns of the true nature of the Harlequin, is tasked with the greater mission of the Grail quest and eventually fights in the Battle of Crecy, which the English win.
A great deal of the novel is given over to the dominance of the archer in this period of history and Cornwall has clearly researched his subject matter as there is technical detail littered throughout. His depictions of the battles are what we would expect of the author of the Sharpe series and he doesn't shy away from depicting the brutal reality of medieval warfare. Our hero is not overly chivalrous - though considerably more so that his counterparts - and we are taken through the aftermath of several battles into the details of sacking cities - particularly Caen.
Some of the characterization is a little stereotyped. Particularly the villains. There is a fairly weak reason given for Sir Simon's initial enmity - seems to be just an instant dislike, which is echoed in the later `Vagabond' with Sir William Douglas - which then rests on a more solid foundation after Thomas steals both his desired woman and then attempts to murder him. The dark cloaked Harlequin (or Guy Vexille, Count of Astarac - who turns out to be Thomas' cousin ) is also somewhat standardized as the thinking villain amongst the remaining bumbling ones. Indeed, most of the battles are won by the English (or people associated with Thomas) due the enemy's lack of foresight, intelligence, or experience.
Nevertheless, this is a good story and you come away with the impression of some accuracy. The pace moves along nicely, there are some complete subplots and the right mix of reality and general adventurousness. All in all a well rounded tale and it'll make the reader reach for both `Vagabond' and the eventual `Heretic'.
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