Thursday, July 31, 2014

1356 by Bernard Cornwell (✰✰✰✰)

I haven’t read many of Cornwell’s novels, but every time I do I wonder why I don’t read more.  His books are fantastic.  Vivid characters that bring history to life, gripping plots, and writing that has you visualizing every epic moment.
This book has several plot lines that eventually converge at the Battle of Poitiers (in the year 1356, of course).  Edward III is King of England and Jean II is King of France; Gascony is English and the Scots are allied with the French in hopes of defeating the English with their help and and orchestrating the capture of the English king in order to exchange him for the Scottish King David, who is being held prisoner by the English. 

According to Shelfari, this novel has a whopping 187 characters, and managing that many people through more than one plot does get a bit confusing at times.  What keeps it in hand is the fact that you are dealing with a number of nationalities and church members and so have a way of sorting characters into more easily tracked groups.

Given the huge cast and intertwining plots, I might recommend doing this one in print.  However, the audio, narrated by Jack Hawkins, was outstanding.  This is the first audio in a very long time that I have not sped up; everything about this one was just perfect as is.  His voices and accents were a huge aid in separating characters from each other. 

The reason I docked this one a star was that I found it a bit difficult to keep track not only of all of the cast but also the number of plot threads running.  That said, I did manage a decent job of keeping up, despite knowing nothing about the characters (come to find out, this is a series--some of the characters, but not the plot lines, carry over from earlier books) and the historical events depicted.  I do not think that you need to read the earlier books to read this one, but I intend to go back and read the Grail Trilogy, as Thomas of Hookton was my favorite character (think Legolas in a different time and place) in this novel, and he is apparently the hero of those books.

I think this book will be enjoyed by most readers looking for a fast paced summer read with good historical fiction underpinnings.  

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