Sunday, July 31, 2016

Vagabond by Bernard Cornwell

Book Two in the Grail Quest Trilogy
Bernard Cornwell
416 pages
Historical Fiction

Vagabond is book two in the Grail Quest series. It follows on the Archer’s Tale, and continues the chronicles of Thomas the Archer and his quest to find the Holy Grail.

A well detailed historical adventure bouncing between England and France and various places within and about, Vagabond is a solid read that fans of the English wars that Bernard Cornwell writes about in his various historical fiction series will enjoy.

Thomas is an interesting viewpoint character not only because he is likeable, but because despite his charm and skills, he’s failable. He suffers loss after loss but continues to strive against the darkness and to seek redress against those who’ve wronged him.

In so doing, he encounters many interesting characters. These characters, makes Vagabond a entertaining read. There are those who stand against Thomas, like fellow Englishman the "Scarecrow" who rules over his own band of thugs including the enormous footpad known simply as “the Beggar”. These unique names give the characters their own life.

It’s not just the villains that give Thomas’s world such color. His Jewish doctor friend Mordecai for example, provides an entirely different viewpoint to the times that Thomas is living in. At one point, Mordecai mentions his son is going to be a doctor and Thomas feels that Mordecai is going to compare the righteousness of being a healer against Thomas' own cause or being an archer. In this case, that’s not it at all. As a Jew, Mordecai’s son isn’t allowed the right to use weapons. The inherent discrimination, the systematic discrimination, is palpable.

And Thomas himself? He's raised with a great degree of education. He speaks English well enough, but also Latin and French. He can write. He is knowledge of nobility but isn't of "pure" noble blood but rather a bastard. This limits him but allows him to mix circles. One of his friends is even a captured enemy from another country and the two grow to become close friends.

Bernard Cornwell doesn't shy away from the absurdities of things. Multiple nations shouting out to the same God to strike down their foe. Class discrimination abounds in both the attitudes of nobles against commoners and even against half-blood bastards like Thomas himself. The plight of women against an entrenched society that literally rapes them almost at will.

The author manages to keep the reader interested in numerous little things. One of my favorite, is how the giant siege weapons are all named. It gives them a sense of personality. The advancement of the story through the seasons also shows time passing, further entangling the reader into the believability of the tale.

Bernard Cornwell wraps things up at the end with justice delivered to some of Thomas' foes, but not all. No, for that, future adventurers await in the next tale, Heretic, but for now, there is peace.

If you want an action packed blockbuster style novel, Vagabond is your next read.