Share This Page

'1356': When things were rotten

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 8:56 p.m.

Review

All in all — the Middle Ages in Europe was lousy living for most people.

How can you tell? Just pick up “1356” by prolific author Bernard Cornwall and you'll see. Like the period it is written about, it needs a strong stomach to finish.

The pragmatic hero, Thomas of Hookton, is ordered to find the fictional lost sword of St. Peter, “la Malice,” which is reputed to bring victory to the armies that wield it. Of course, others are also hunting the weapon.

The quests culminate at the battle of Poitiers where the badly outnumbered English forces, under Edward the Black Prince, face off with the army of a confident King John II of France. The slaughter was overwhelming.

The English won.

Cornwall is one of the best writers of historical fiction. He does extensive research for his various book series. This is the latest in his Grail Quest series after “The Archer's Tale,” “Vagabond” and “Heretic.” His other series have dealt with the Napoleonic wars (“Sharpe”), Saxon England, the American Revolution and King Arthur.

Here, he takes you through the turbulence of the Europe's Hundred Years War rivalry between England and France, with its armies, mercenaries and destruction. It's more than just army against army — this was ground warfare at its ugliest, a scorched-earth policy across France, destroying villages and mills and taking plunder.

It's also a time heavily dominated by the Catholic Church and two Popes — one in France's Avignon, the other in Rome. Papal intrigue plays a part in the search for “la Malice.”

“1356,” though, is about humanity swept up in constant wars, and it is graphically violent at times. It starts with two rapes at the sack of Carcassonne in France, all within the first five pages. Next, a man's eyes are pecked out by a hawk, then he is smothered to death. Things go downhill for many from then on.

Thomas, also known as “le Batard,” leads the Hellequin, a mercenary group with “just over sixty archers, all of them English or Welsh, and thirty-two men-at-arms from Gascony, all of them adventurers who sought money and found it with le Batard.” It's through his actions that the sword ends up on a battlefield where chivalry and reality collide.

The fate of “la Malice” is left for him to decide.

Tish Wells is a staff writer for McClatchy Newspapers.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.