Vagabond by Bernard Cornwell
Bernard Cornwell, OBE was born in London, England on 23 February 1944. His father was a Canadian airman, and his mother was English, a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, WAAF. He was adopted at six weeks old and brought up in Thundersley, Essex by the Wiggins family, who were members of the Peculiar People. That is a strict sect who were pacifists, banned frivolity of all kinds and even medicine. So, he grew up in a household that forbade alcohol, cigarettes, dances, television, conventional medicine and toy guns. Unsurprisingly, he developed a fascination for military adventure. Cornwell was sent to Monkton Combe School which is an independent boarding and day school of the British public school tradition, near Bath, Somerset, England and as a teenager he devoured the Hornblower novels by CS Forrester. After he left the Wiggins family, he changed his name to his mother’s maiden name, Cornwell. He tried to enlist three times but poor eyesight put paid to this dream and he went to the University of London to read theology. On graduating, he became a teacher, then joined BBC.
He is an English author of historical novels. He is best known for his novels about Napoleonic rifleman Richard Sharpe which were adapted into a series of Sharpe television films. He started to write after his life changed in 1979, when he fell in love with an American. His wife could not live in the UK so he gave up his job and moved to the USA. He could not get a green card, so he began to write novels. The result was his first book about that 19th century hero, Richard Sharpe, Sharpe’s Eagle. Today Bernard Cornwell has 20 Sharpe adventures behind him, plus a series about the American Civil War, the Starbuck novels; an enormously successful trilogy about King Arthur, The Warlord Chronicles; the Hundred Years War set, Grail Quest series; and his current series about King Alfred. The author has now taken American citizenship and owns houses in Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Florida, USA and two boats. Every year he takes two months off from his writing and spends most of his time on his 24 foot Cornish crabber, Royalist.
Vagabond is the first book by Bernard Cornwell that I had read. I was on holiday, had read the books that I had taken with me, so I borrowed this book from my husband. He has read many Bernard Cornwell books and enjoys them immensely. I was quite excited to read a book by a new author. The Grail Quest is a trilogy of books set in the 14th Century. Vagabond is the second book in the series. It starts in 1346 with the Battle of Neville’s Cross in Northern England. While King Edward III fights in France, England lies exposed to the threat of invasion. The battle is peripheral to the main plot of the hero, Thomas of Hockton’s, search for the grail which is supposedly under the control of his family and has been hidden by his dead father. Thomas, is a protagonist drawn quite pithily. He is an archer and hero of Crécy, finds himself back in the north just as the Scots invade on behalf of their French allies. Thomas is determined to pursue his personal quest: to discover whether a relic he is searching for is the Holy Grail. It is the archers whose skills will be called upon, and who will become the true heroes of the battle.
Thomas struggles with his doubts that the Grail even exists and travels around England and Northwestern France while working off his guilt at not being able to save his two early travel companions from being murdered. Cornwell’s battle descriptions are as good as any in historical fiction. His description of this Middle Ages’ environment is also excellent. I was particularly impressed with his analysis of the power and influence of the Catholic Church in those days. The sheer verve of Cornwell’s storytelling here is irresistible. The reader is plunged into a distant age: bloody, colourful and dangerous. However, I found that the story did tend to drag a bit through the middle of the book.
Still, I really did enjoy this book. I recommend it and I will read more by this author.