Azincourt (2008) by Bernard Cornwell

A breezy enough jaunt through English (and French) history around the time of the great battle of Agincourt (styled here by Cornwell after the French spelling, Azincourt).

The history is strong enough, the battle scenes are well-written and engaging, the fiction parts of Cornwell’s historical fiction are good enough I suppose, though shallow, and grating at times. Some interesting things are done with protagonist Nick Hook’s local family feud paralleling the war he fights in, but his romance arc grows very tiresome very quickly. The treatment of women in general in the novel grates from pretty early on. There’s a great deal of sexual violence, presumably written to be accurate to the time, but an unrealistic romance arc seemingly operating on a different level of reality than the rest of the book, which led to some tonal confusion for me. If Cornwell wanted an ultra-accurate historical fiction book, I’d be happy with that. If he wanted more of a power fantasy set against a backdrop inspired by real history, that could work well. At times, the novel feels like an awkward, unsuccessful attempt at mashing both those possibly incompatible ideas together.

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The book hits its stride in the focused, evocative battle sequences, but the connective tissue between them (ostensibly the story itself that Cornwell is crafting) leaves much to be desired.

Still, even besides from the battle sequence, much of the historical detail is fun and fascinating, and Cornwell does some interesting reappropriations of other famous treatments of Agincourt (there’s some fun reframing of moments from Shakespeare’s “Henry V”). It’s an imperfect novel, but there’s still plenty enjoyable here. I give it three longbows, and a jupon.

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