Tag Archives: Bernard Cornwell

New Historical Fiction Novel from Bernard Cornwell 2017

I’m a big fan of historical fiction (as you might guess from the stories that I write and the content of this blog!) So I was interested to hear that there will be a new Bernard Cornwell book later in this year – and one that’s not part of his normal series – or on a subject that he would normally write about.

I really enjoy Cornwell’s action stories–he writes well and creates strong stories. You could argue that the books are a bit formulaic after a while, but they’re good reads nevertheless.

His latest is set in Elizabethan England and follows the life of one Richard Shakespeare – it’s not out until October and there’s not a great deal of information on it – not even a cover image at the moment – but it sounds intriguing – probably the most notable difference from most of his work is that it does not involve military matters.

Here’s what I have from the Amazon website:

Fools and Mortals Kindle
by Bernard Cornwell

A dramatic new departure for international bestselling author Bernard Cornwell, FOOLS AND MORTALS takes us into the heart of the Elizabethan era, long one of his favourite periods of British history.

Fools and Mortals follows the young Richard Shakespeare, an actor struggling to make his way in a company dominated by his estranged older brother, William. As the growth of theatre blooms, their rivalry – and that of the playhouses, playwrights and actors vying for acclaim and glory – propels a high-stakes story of conflict and betrayal.

And the link to it on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk for pre-orders.


Book Review: Sharpe’s Eagle by Bernard Cornwell

Sharpes_Eagle_PBSharpe’s Eagle by Richard Cornwell

Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 3rd 2004 by Signet (first published January 1st 1981)
Original Title
Sharpe’s Eagle
0451212576 (ISBN13: 9780451212573)
Edition Language

Although this is the eighth book in the series of Sharpe book – going in chronological order, Sharpe’s Eagle has the distinction of being Bernard Cornwell’s first Sharpe book. He went back and filled in much of the history of Richard Sharpe at a later date – his time in India for instance which is referred to in this book.

This book is also of note as it’s the only place where Sharpe’s hair is described as being black – Cornwell didn’t mention his hair colour again in other books in the series, which is a good thing given Sean Bean is blond!

Well enough of the anecdotes about the book. What’s it about and is it any good? The story covers the Talavera campaign, during which the British army under Wellington entered Spain with the intention of capturing Madrid supported by the Spanish army. The story begins in Portugal with Sharpe’s company of riflemen being attached to a new regiment, the fictional South Essex commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry Simmerson. The Colonel is proud and incompetent and he and one of his officers, Lieutenant Christian Gibbons are the main villains of the story. Gibbons is accompanied by a beautiful Portuguese noblewoman, Josefina Lacosta. The South Essex has the job of seizing a bridge on the line of march of the British army with the cooperation of a Spanish regiment. Due to the incompetence of both the Spanish and Simmerson the regiment is nearly destroyed by French dragoons and cannon. But Sharpe disobeys orders and manages to save most of the regiment from destruction. Not before the South Essex loses its King’s Colour. One of Sharpe’s friends – an officer of the South Essex dies, and Sharpe tells the dying man that he will capture a French regimental Eagle in order to take revenge for the loss of the King’s Colour. Thus the stage is set for the rest of the book.

The British army makes its way under Wellington to Talavera. Most of the rest of the action is the march to the city and the battle itself. There is a good deal of conflict between Sharpe, Simmerson and Gibbon – and with Gibbon Josefina is the main subject of that conflict – the love interest for the book!

I won’t say anything more about the story in case readers of this post haven’t read it.

So what did I think of it? I really enjoyed it. I’ve read other Sharpe books before and other novels by Cornwell, so I was familiar with the style and content of his work – and it didn’t disappoint. There’s plenty of action to keep you turning the pages, but although he’s sometimes accused of being a bit lightweight on history, I found that there was plenty of historical background and content in the book to keep me interested. The characters are well defined too – although some are a bit stereotyped in a way – you can see that they fulfil a function in the story for instance – such as Major Hogan who’s there as a kindly older father figure who tries to help Sharpe. But the characters work well and Cornwell has a knack of bringing them to life and making you believe in them.

Verdict? Heartily recommended!

If you want to support my blog then please consider buying a copy of Sharpe’s Eagle (or anything else) by clicking on the Amazon links below.

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

1,356 thoughts on Bernard Cornwell

1356 Bernard Cornwell - book coverHerewith, some thoughts on writing techniques of Bernard Cornwell following reading 1356.

This is a case of me making some fairly random observations that are important to me as a writer of historical fiction. If you are not a writer, then you might find them a bit uninteresting. If the thoughts are relevant to you, then you might also find them a bit obvious – “Well of course he does that, doesn’t he!”

  1. He uses an historical event (Battle of Poitiers) as a plot device – not as a backdrop – it only appears late on in the book – for the main story – in this case the pursuit for the fabled sword La Malice. In effect 1356 is a secret history.
  2. He introduces interesting nuggets of historical detail to dazzle the reader – steel was made by combining bones when smelting iron apparently? The bones of virgins make for the best steel. I never knew that, I have no idea if its true, but it sounds good.
  3. Minor characters are drawn vividly, but not that deeply. Prince Edward is a gambling, jolly prince who is cocky, but in a nice way; Sculley is basically a battle crazed scott, Father Merchant is coldly evil – it’s easy for the reader to picture these people. Major characters have more depth of back story and motivation.
  4. Interesting mix of viewpoint characters – Thomas of course, the main character, but King Jean, Prince Edward and several others are used as viewpoint characters – so many in fact that it almost seems like an omniscient POV.
  5. Some viewpoint characters seem to almost drop out of the story – what’s the point of Brother Michael – he only seems to be relevant early in the book and then he’s a hanger-on. (I still have a bit left to read, so who knows, perhaps he will make a come back?)
  6. The action scenes are where the writing is at its strongest. There are some attempts at humour, which feel a bit weird to me and don’t come off.
  7. The publisher needs to think about using a copy editor more thoroughly – in the space of a few pages at one point the same information was communicated several times. And it seems to be a running joke that no-one knows how to find the city of Bourges. Poor old Bourges! Not sure if this was intentional or again the result of lack of editing. The obsession with finding Bourges seemed a bit odd to me.

So that’s it – just some of my thoughts. 1356 like all of Bernard Cornwell’s books is good fun for the reader, but also provides some good pointers for writers. There’s the whole character arc, plotting question as well – I’m sure it does that well, but I hvaen’t had a chance to study how that works, but my main takeaways were the points about historical detail and making minor characters vivid.

Spotted Another Historical Inaccuracy in Azincourt by Bernard Cornewell

Elevation at the final doxology of the Euchari...
Elevation at the final doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer in a Mass celebrated by a single priest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Got to the end of Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell today. It was a good read, although I found that his efforts to explain certain things about this iconic battle in English history did obscure the storytelling – he seemed to be trying a bit too hard to show how certain things happen – i.e. this is how such a small English army beat such a big French one. A good read, but I wonder if it could have been better – a bit more naturally told somehow?

In my last post about Azincourt

I mentioned an historical inaccuracy regarding the Bishop of Oxford. Well right at the end I spotted another one – this time there is a priest who offers to say two masses in one day – however, a priest is only ever allowed to say one mass a day except in special circumstances.

I guess I shouldn’t be too picky though – I am sure my own work contains just as many mistakes, but these two did jump out at me!

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Bernard Cornwell Guilty of Historical Inaccuracy in Azincourt?

Azincourt (novel)
Azincourt (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am currently reading Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell and absolutely loving it. Azincourt is a nice easy and pleasurable page-turner told in the usual style of Bernard Cornwell – the historical content is fairly light and the characters are very immediate, not to complex but with enough empathy to keep the reader interested in the story.

And of course its about the great battle of Agincourt (or Azincourt) during the Hundred Years War, a battle that I have read a fair bit about and one that I have some quite strong opinions on – i.e. that the contribution of our archers wasn’t as key as some people like to make out – the men-at-arms and the mud were the key players in my opinion. So I wanted to see how Bernard Cornwell treated the portrayal of the battle. At the moment I am reading his depiction of the siege of Harfleur, which he does very well – effectively a medieval siege was like trench warfare and that is well depicted in Azincourt.

There was one jarring moment of disappointment and surprise for me though earlier in the book. A priest is describing his time at Oxford University and how he used to visit a brothel there – all fine and accurate so far. In fact this priest visited the brothel so often that he became a regular acquaintance of the Bishop of Oxford, who was also a regular customer of the same brothel.

But … there was no Bishop of Oxford. No bishop existed in Oxford until the reign of Henry VIII in the sixteenth century. Oxford was part of the huge diocese of Lincoln at the time. When I read this passage in Azincourt it was one of those moments where I simply had to put down the book and do a fact check. Having done a fair bit of research on the University of Oxford for my novel Hell has its Demons, I thought it odd that I hadn’t come across a Bishop of Oxford – such a figure would have held great sway over the interaction of the town and the University I thought – instead the Chancellor of the University was probably the most important clerk around time at this point.

Lessons to be learnt? Even the best novelists make mistakes, and always check your facts even if they seem self-evident – i.e. that a place as prominent as Oxford would be assured to have a Bishop.

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Weekly Medieval History Round Up

Some of the top stories and most interesting blog posts on Medieval History and Medieval Historical Fiction in the past week or so:

Medieval Bookworm reviews Bernard Cornwell’s Death of Kings

Medievalists.net discusses evidence for Scottish Medieval Football – although is this any real surprise? Football was around for a long time in the Middle Ages.

Medievalists.net also has news that the British Library launches new Medieval and Renaissance images app

About.com tells us about the Viking Ship Burial Discovered in Scotland

ABC News and many other news sites tell about how a father forced his daughter to take part in a medieval duel

Live Science has news of how Computers are helping to piece together Medieval scrolls found in a Cairo synagogue

Gamershell.com has news about an interesting MMO game set in the Middle Ages. Goldon Age is currently in Closed Beta

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Alt Hist Facebook page for lovers of historical fiction

Alt Hist Image
Alt Hist Image

New Alt Hist Facebook Page

As you may have realised if you occasionally read this blog, I am really into historical fiction and historical fantasy fiction, and also Alternate History as well. I always find it surprising that there are few outlets for discussion of historical fiction compared to science fiction and the various aspects of fantasy fiction. In particular short stories seem to be very badly served. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps historical fiction is regarded as part of the mainstream, either at the literary level with Booker Prize winners such as Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, or at the more mass market mainstream level with the likes of Bernard Cornwell. But I always think of historical fiction as genre writing first and foremost. Especially when writers start to bend history and imagine what might have been.

I thought it might be a good idea therefore to experiment with the creation of a community of readers and aspiring writers in historical fiction.  So I have created a Facebook page to facilitate discussion and the spreading of news. My plan is to allow users to post their own news and even post links to their own historical short stories wherever these maybe located. At some point I am thinking of perhaps setting up a regular magazine to publish historical short stories, reviews and features, but that maybe some way down the line yet.

Please let me know what you think of the page and the idea behind it, either here or over at Facebook.

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