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The Archer's Tale (Grail Quest Series #1)

The Archer's Tale (Grail Quest Series #1)

4.3 176
by Bernard Cornwell

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A brutal raid on the quiet coastal English village of Hookton in 1342 leaves but one survivor: a young archer named Thomas. On this terrible dawn, his purpose becomes clear -- to recover a stolen sacred relic and pursue to the ends of the earth the murderous black-clad knight bearing a blue-and-yellow standard, a journey that leads him to the courageous rescue of a


A brutal raid on the quiet coastal English village of Hookton in 1342 leaves but one survivor: a young archer named Thomas. On this terrible dawn, his purpose becomes clear -- to recover a stolen sacred relic and pursue to the ends of the earth the murderous black-clad knight bearing a blue-and-yellow standard, a journey that leads him to the courageous rescue of a beautiful French woman, and sets him on his ultimate quest: the search for the Holy Grail.

Editorial Reviews

The direct heir to Patrick O'Brian.
Washington Post
Perhaps the greatest writer of historical adventure novels today.
Publishers Weekly
The young archer Thomas of Hookton joins the forces of King Edward III to fight against France in Cornwell's latest, which takes place in the mid-14th century at the beginning of the Hundred Years War. Thomas, a brilliant, handsome warrior who combines physical strength and skill with the bow, survives the pillaging of his village to become an archer and then rescues a female counterpart known as the Blackbird after she's nearly raped by Sir Simon Jekyll during one of the troop's raids in France. The nobleman becomes Thomas's chief rival as Jekyll continues to pursue the Blackbird, and Thomas is finally cast out of his unit after failing to kill Jekyll in an ill-conceived assassination attempt. He recovers to join and couple with the Blackbird, making his way through France and parlaying his skills into a royal pardon even as his opportunistic partner leaves him for the libidinous Prince of Wales. The three members of Cornwell's romantic triangle eventually meet during a huge climactic battle at Cr?cy, where Thomas must face up to a demanding family legacy involving a quest for a special lance. Cornwell has been down this path many times before, and he's a consummate pro when it comes to plying the tried-and-true combination of heroic characters; a fast-moving, action-packed plot; and enough twists and turns to keep the narrative from lapsing into formula. He uses his historical expertise judiciously as well. This book mark the beginning of a promising new series that brings an intriguing period to life. (Oct. 9) Forecast: Cornwell, the author of the Richard Sharpe series, set during the Napoleonic Wars, has a strong and growing U.S. fan base. The Archer's Tale, already a bestseller inBritain, should strengthen his hold on the Patrick O'Brian crowd. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Already a best seller in England under the title Harlequin, this novel is the opening salvo of a new series by the author of the well-known Richard Sharpe books (e.g., Sharpe's Trafalgar). Set in the early 1400s at the beginning of the Hundred Years War between England and France, this novel depicts one of the most bloody and violent periods in the history of conflict between these two nations. After the theft of the treasure of Hookton, a broken lance thought to have been the weapon St. George used to slay the dragon, young Thomas, the bastard son of the village priest and a skilled longbowman, joins the English army in hopes of recovering the relic. Instead, he finds himself caught up in the invasion of France. Cornwell has crafted an extremely well-written novel, grounded in actual historic events. As in the Sharpe books, Cornwell's battle scenes are particularly memorable. This series, however, promises to be a bit meatier. More attention is paid to fascinating secondary characters and the roles they play in the political, religious, and social arenas of the time. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/01.] Jane Baird, Anchorage Municipal Libs., AK Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Cornwell picks a new epoch to play in and, to no one's surprise, has a ball. The master of the Sharpe series, the Warlord Trilogy, and Stonehenge 2000 B.C. takes his peerless storytelling to the 14th-century in the tale of Thomas of Hookton, bastard son of an eccentric priest, whose superb archery takes the hero from darkest Dorset to the pivotal battle of Crecy. Tall, handsome, and deeply uninterested in his priestly study at Oxford, Thomas has gotten himself into the usual dilemma of lads home from school for the break: there's a local lass with a bun in the oven. But career choices and fatherhood cease to be problems when raiders from across the English Channel put the torch to the village of Hookton, raping, pillaging, cleaving, and stabbing in the fashion of the day. The pregnant girlfriend becomes a prize of war, and Thomas escapes with his life, but the raiders do in his mother and his rather mysterious father. They also make off with the greatest treasure in his father's church, the lance of St. George. With his last breath, Father Ralph tells his son that the lance, with which the family has long been involved, is now in the hands of Thomas's evil cousin, a leader of the raid, and he extracts from Thomas a promise to retrieve the relic. Chucking scholarship forever, the dutifully vengeful Thomas takes his bow and arrows to France to join English troops doing their own raping, pillaging, cleaving, and stabbing. He's a natural. Not so much at the nastier parts, but he's bright, speaks great Norman French, loves the job, and shoots straight. It's his reconnoitering that brings the stalemated English their first victory in ages, and his arrows bring down Frenchman after Frenchman.There's a setback when an evil knight lays him low, but Thomas gets to meet a good Jewish doctor, picks up a couple of very attractive Frenchwomen, and catches the eyes of the best British warriors. Another top effort from one of today's truly great storytellers. Please, oh please, let it be another series.
The Economist
“The direct heir to Patrick O’Brian.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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Grail Quest Series , #1
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The Archer's Tale

Chapter One


It was winter. A cold morning wind blew from the sea bringing a sour salt smell and a spitting rain that would inevitably sap the power of the bowstrings if it did not let up.

"What it is," Jake said, "is a waste of goddamn time."

No one took any notice of him.

"Could have stayed in Brest," Jake grumbled, "been sitting by a fire. Drinking ale."

Again he was ignored.

"Funny name for a town," Sam said after a long while. "Brest. I like it, though." He looked at the archers. "Maybe we'll see the Blackbird again?" he suggested.

"Maybe she'll put a bolt through your tongue," Will Skeat growled, "and do us all a favor."

The Blackbird was a woman who fought from the town walls every time the army made an assault. She was young, had black hair, wore a black cloak and shot a crossbow. In the first assault, when Will Skeat's archers had been in the vanguard of the attack and had lost four men, they had been close enough to see the Blackbird clearly and they had all thought her beautiful, though after a winter campaign of failure, cold, mud and hunger, almost any woman looked beautiful. Still, there was something special about the Blackbird.

"She doesn't load that crossbow herself," Sam said, unmoved by Skeat's surliness.

"Of course she bloody doesn't," Jake said. "There ain't a woman born that can crank a crossbow."

"Dozy Mary could," another man said. "Got muscles like a bullock, she has."

"And she closes her eyes when she shoots," Sam said, still talking of the Blackbird. "I noticed."

"That'sbecause you weren't doing your goddamn job," Will Skeat snarled, "so shut your mouth, Sam."

Sam was the youngest of Skeat's men. He claimed to be eighteen, though he was really not sure because he had lost count. He was a draper's son, had a cherubic face, brown curls and a heart as dark as sin. He was a good archer though; no one could serve Will Skeat without being good.

"Right, lads," Skeat said, "make ready."

He had seen the stir in the encampment behind them. The enemy would notice it soon and the church bells would ring the alarm and the town walls would fill with defenders armed with crossbows. The crossbows would rip their bolts into the attackers and Skeat's job today was to try to clear those crossbowmen off the wall with his arrows. Some chance, he thought sourly. The defenders would crouch behind their crenellations and so deny his men an opportunity to aim, and doubtless this assault would end as the five other attacks had finished, in failure.

It had been a whole campaign of failure. William Bohun, the Earl of Northampton, who led this small English army, had launched the winter expedition in hope of capturing a stronghold in northern Brittany, but the assault on Carhaix had been a humiliating failure, the defenders of Guingamp had laughed at the English, and the walls of Lannion had repulsed every attack. They had captured Tréguier, but as that town had no walls it was not much of an achievement and no place to make a fortress. Now, at the bitter end of the year, with nothing better to do, the Earl's army had fetched up outside this small town, which was scarcely more than a walled village, but even this miserable place had defied the army. The Earl had launched attack after attack and all had been beaten back. The English had been met by a storm of crossbow bolts, the scaling ladders had been thrust from the ramparts and the defenders had exulted in each failure.

"What is this goddamn place called?" Skeat asked.

"La Roche-Derrien," a tall archer answered.

"You would know, Tom," Skeat said, "you know everything."

"That is true, Will," Thomas said gravely, "quite literally true." The other archers laughed.

"So if you know so bloody much," Skeat said, "tell me what this goddamn town is called again."

"La Roche-Derrien."

"Daft bloody name," Skeat said. He was gray-haired, thin-faced and had known nearly thirty years of fighting. He came from Yorkshire and had begun his career as an archer fighting against the Scots. He had been as lucky as he was skilled, and so he had taken plunder, survived battles and risen in the ranks until he was wealthy enough to raise his own band of soldiers. He now led seventy men-at-arms and as many archers, whom he had contracted to the Earl of Northampton's service which was why he was crouching behind a wet hedge a hundred and fifty paces from the walls of a town whose name he still could not remember. His men-at-arms were in the camp, given a day's rest after leading the last failed assault. Will Skeat hated failure.

"La Roche what?" he asked Thomas.


"What does that goddamn mean?"

"That, I confess, I do not know."

"Sweet Christ," Skeat said in mock wonder, "he doesn't know everything."

"It is, however, close to derrière, which means arse," Thomas added. "The rock of the arse is my best translation."

Skeat opened his mouth to say something, but just then the first of La Roche-Derrien's church bells sounded the alarm. It was the cracked bell, the one that sounded so harsh, and within seconds the other churches added their tolling so that the wet wind was filled with their clangor. The noise was greeted by a subdued English cheer as the assault troops came from the camp and pounded up the road toward the town's southern gate. The leading men carried ladders, the rest had swords and axes. The Earl of Northampton led the assault, as he had led all the others, conspicuous in his plate armor half covered by a surcoat showing his badge of the lions and stars.

"You know what to do!" Skeat bellowed.

The Archer's Tale. Copyright © by Bernard Cornwell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

BERNARD CORNWELL is the author of the acclaimed New York Times bestselling Saxon Tales series, which includes The Last Kingdom, The Pale Horseman, Lords of the North, Sword Song, The Burning Land, Death of Kings, The Pagan Lord, and, most recently, The Empty Throne, and which serves as the basis for the hit television series The Last Kingdom. He lives with his wife on Cape Cod and in Charleston, South Carolina.

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The Archer's Tale (Grail Quest Series #1) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 177 reviews.
JohnP51 More than 1 year ago
This was my first Bernard Cornwell novel, which I picked up on a whim. I have been hooked on his tales ever since. If you love historical fiction that is as real as it can get, this book and all that follow are the books for you. Don't be surprised if you start a journey similar to mine of finding and reading any and all of Bernard Cornwell books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm already hooked on the the Lord of the North Series....now I have to follow Thomas of Hookton. No one quite describes a gory battle the way Cornwell does and he is so detailed in what is going on in all the chaos with the archers, the men-at-arms....I can say out of all the historical fiction written for this time period, no one gives a battle description like Cornwell...and if you read the series books or some of his non series books - very detailed. One feels like they're right there - in the gore. Like Uhtred - gotta love Thomas of Hookton.
carlosmock More than 1 year ago
The Archer's Tale by Bernard Cornwell (Book 1 of The Grail's Quest) The book opens with an attack on the a small British town of Hookton by the French lead by Sir Guillaume D’Eveque - Guy Vexille, count of Astarac’s mercenary. The town, led by Father Ralph, has a treasure - the lance of St. George - in their church. Father Ralph has sired a bastard with his maid, Thomas, and he’s a trained archer. The town is destroyed, the lance stolen, and Thomas is the only survivor. Thomas of Hookton joins the British army in Brittany and becomes one of Will Skeat’s archers, who served under William (Billy) Bohum, Earl of Northampton. The British have been ransacking the French countryside and the are starving. They need to take the town of La Roche-Derrien. Multiples attack on the town’s defenses have failed; and it’s Thomas who comes with a successful plan to take the town. This wins the favor of the earl, and increases Thomas’ purse and influence. Unfortunately, Thomas has made an enemy of Sir Simon Jeckyll - who manages to beat him up, and even hang him. Thomas survives and lives to fight with the British in the famous battle of Crécy. Based on true events, the book is a pleasure to read. The writer develops his characters beautifully: they come to life masterfully, without becoming a caricature. Points of view are clearly marked and sometimes we take a look at the same events from more than point of view. Cornwell’s descriptions of the battles read like a movie: it almost feels like you’re there. I read the book in three days and I recommend the book to anyone who, like me, enjoys historical fiction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My first Cornwell book and I couldn't stop. I went through three bookstores and had to stop by several times over a month before I got the last volume. Now there's Nook! I loved the battles and the fact it was told from a long bowman's point of view. I heard about their deadly accuracy but wasn't aware how much training and talent it took to be good. Today we have archery. Hah! I don't usually read books with bloody scenes but it's part of history and when done this way I didn't notice it. I was more into how they survived and what if I lived through it. We talk about how unpredictable life is now. Read this book and then rethink what that truly means.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like this book because I has a lot of a ventures inside, including I think may ie this might be a good book for you.
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Martha_J More than 1 year ago
The Archer's Tale and the entire Grail Quest Series is solid Bernard Cornwell historical fiction. Cornwell is very careful with historical accuracy and is particularly good with male characters and the particulars of battle strategy, weapons and the nitty-gritty of combat. There is a great deal of action and fighting. Using the search for the Holy Grail as the core for the story, the book also looks at how religion and power motivated people in different ways. There are a few love interests sprinkled in the story but do not expect Cornwell to deliver a multi-dimensional female character or an intricate romance. That is not what his stories are known for. Do enjoy the history and the scheming and the fighting as the MC struggles to find his way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Would reccomend...
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Good but rarher slow moving
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best book of the series. Good characters. Good descriptions of armament and battles. Very bloody and brutal. Good for anyone who is interested in this historical period. Read the rest of the Grail series.
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Im hooked!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
the book was excellent, as all of the book I have read so far by Bernard Cornwell
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