Harlequin/The Archer’s Tale by Bernard Cornwell

Harlequin, also known as the Archer’s Tale is the first book in Bernard Cornwell’s ‘Grail Quest’ series. The other two books in the series are ‘Vagabond’ and ‘Heretic’.

The story begins in the small English coastal village of Hookton where Thomas live with his father Ralph, a priest, and his mother who is the priest’s ‘housekeeper’.

Thomas has begun his training for the priesthood, so, unusually for the times, he can read and is fluent in French and Latin as well as English. The village is attacked and destroyed by French pirates and Thomas is the only survivor. His father, in his dying breath, makes Thomas vow to retrieve the lance that has been stolen from Hookton’s church – said to be the lance used by St George to slay the dragon.

Thomas goes on to fight for the English in France, as an archer, under King Edward III. The battles in which he is involved, particularly the battle of Crecy are the beginning of the 100 years war between the English and the French. Thomas’s search for the lance is very half-hearted – he is more interested in war, women and drinking – until he meets and befriends one of Hookton’s attackers and falls in love with his daughter. Thomas’s new friend has his own interest in the lance, and Thomas finds out about the thief of the lance, known as the Harlequin, and also about his own family history and the search for the missing grail.

The story gave a realistic picture of the hardships of life at war in a foreign country in the 14th century. Most of the battles in the book are based on history and are described, along with the battle preparations in well researched detail. At the same time the characters in the story help to bring the past to life. This is a great book if you enjoy getting into the details of medieval life and the bloodthirsty gore of medieval war, rape and plunder, along with a bit of romance and damsels in distress.

I’m looking forward to continuing Thomas’s tale and the search for the grail in the next book in the series – Vagabond.


Book Published 2000


See a full list of books by Bernard Cornwell

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Filed under Book Reviews, Cornwell, Bernard, Historical, Series Fiction

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