If you were to take a look at the books in my son Will's room - though I wouldn't venture in there if I were you as it's not exactly what you'd call spick and span - you'd find a very masculine mixture of military history, things like the Flashman series and John Le Carré, general history, and biography with a military leaning (this is a young man who plans to join the army). You wouldn't therefore be surprised to find that the collection includes a large number of novels by Bernard Cornwell - all of them read and greatly enjoyed.
When I heard that that most successful and prolific writer of historical fiction had a new book coming out (it's published today), I asked Will whether he thought I'd enjoy it, "or is it all battles and of interest only to men?" He assured me that I'd admire the solid research which informs the books and saw no reason why I wouldn't be thoroughly gripped by the story, too; Bernard Cornwell has, I learn, a large female following!
1356 features the Battle of Poitiers in which England won her second great victory of the Hundred Years War, but the novel centres on Thomas of Hookton, "leader of a mercenary company of bowmen and men-at-arms who ravage the countryside east of Gascony. Edward, Prince of Wales (the Black Prince) is assembling an army to fight the French once more, but before Thomas can join, he must fulfil an urgent task. La Malice, a sword of mythical power guaranteeing victory to its owner, is thought to be concealed somewhere near Poitiers. With signs that a battle is looming, others are seeking the treasure too, and some are pursuing their private agendas against Thomas, but all concerned - and the fate of La Malice - become swept up in the extraordinary confrontation that follows, as the large French army faces the heavily outnumbered English."
I have been reading the opening of 1356, the Prologue in which the sword is snatched from a tomb during the sack of Carcassonne, and the first chapter which sees a young English monk on his way to the Cistercian house at Montpellier caught up in violent scenes, and it's much as I expected: taut, vivid, dramatic, very 'cinematographic', so to speak. Am I inclined to read on? Yes, I am.
Best known for his Sharpe series, Bernard Cornwell is the author of over 50 novels and he is a hugely popular writer. Have you read him?