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Heretic (Grail Quest Series #3)

Heretic (Grail Quest Series #3)

4.4 77
by Bernard Cornwell

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From New York Times bestselling author Bernard Cornwell, now available in paperback—the sequel to The Archer’s Tale and Vagabond from #1 international bestseller Bernard Cornwell—the spellbinding tale of a young man, a fearless archer, who sets out wanting to avenge his family’s honor and winds up on a quest for the Holy Grail.


From New York Times bestselling author Bernard Cornwell, now available in paperback—the sequel to The Archer’s Tale and Vagabond from #1 international bestseller Bernard Cornwell—the spellbinding tale of a young man, a fearless archer, who sets out wanting to avenge his family’s honor and winds up on a quest for the Holy Grail.

Already a seasoned veteran of King Edward's army, young Thomas of Hookton possesses the fearlessness of a born leader and an uncanny prowess with the longbow. Now, at the head of a small but able band of soldiers, he has been dispatched to capture the castle of Astarac. But more than duty to his liege has brought him to Gascony, home of his forebears and the hated black knight who brutally slew Thomas's father. It is also the last place where the Holy Grail was reported seen. Here, also, a beautiful and innocent, if not pious, woman is to be burned as a heretic. Saving the lady, Genevieve, from her dread fate will brand Thomas an infidel, forcing them to flee together across a landscape of blood and fire. And what looms ahead is a battle to the death that could ultimately shape the future of Christendom.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Heretic is the impressive third novel in the Grail Quest series by Bernard Cornwell, a masterful voice in the historical suspense subgenre. Although the first two Grail novels (The Archer's Tale and Vagabond) have their fair share of mystery, political intrigue, and gripping battlefield action, this sweeping epic practically explodes with nefarious schemes, grandiose conflicts, and surprising plot twists.

In the year 1347, English archer Thomas of Hookton continues his search for the Holy Grail. With the Hundred Years' War raging all around, Thomas is fighting in France when he's ordered to his ancestral home of Astarac in Gascony -- the scene of the last Grail sighting. While he and a small group of loyal English archers hold a captured castle against French forces, Thomas confronts his father's murderer, the wrath of a corrupt church, and the secrets surrounding his own lineage.

A well-researched and complex novel, Heretic includes beautiful imagery and intriguing plot strands woven against a detailed backdrop of war. Cornwell combines fact and myth, fusing them into vivid scenes of heroism in the face of horrific carnage. Yet in spite of so many disparate story lines, the action remains taut and compelling. Heretic is destined to become a true classic among historical action novels. Tom Piccirilli

Publishers Weekly
Cornwell is a master of the historical action novel, and he outdoes himself again with this gripping third volume in his Grail Quest series, set during the bloody Hundred Years' War (The Archer's Tale; Vagabond). For years, English archer Thomas of Hookton has been searching for the Holy Grail. Thomas is not certain it ever existed, but obscure clues link his family to the mysterious vessel. In 1347, driven by his desire to plumb the truth of the Grail as well as to earn money from the plunder of French lands and property, Thomas and a small group of soldiers capture a castle in Gascony, the homeland of Thomas's father. Thomas hopes to hold the castle against the French, raid the countryside for loot and draw the attention of his evil cousin Guy Vexille, a French nobleman who murdered Thomas's father and who may have information about the Grail. Vexille appears, but so does the army of a local lord, sent to besiege the castle, and the vicious brother of a treacherous and cunning bishop who is determined to secure the Grail. Fighting honorably amid extreme brutality, Thomas is aided by loyal English archers, English and French men-at-arms, local bandits, a Scottish mercenary and a heretic girl with unusual powers. Outnumbered by his enemies, he faces the might of a huge cannon and the power of the Church's greed-not to mention the dreaded Black Death. Most daunting of all, however, is the decision Thomas must make when he finally discovers the truth about the Holy Grail. Graphic battlefield action, strong characters and sharp plotting are Cornwell's trademarks, and his fans will love this latest melee. (Oct. 7) Forecast: The Grail Quest books sell even faster than Cornwell's popular Napoleonic War series, and this is the best in the series so far. Expect it to fly off shelves. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Cornwell's latest entry in the "Grail Quest" series (The Archer's Tale; Vagabond) opens in 1347, as Thomas, a talented archer, arrives in France in time to fight alongside the Earl of Northampton. With the Hundred Years War still raging, Thomas hopes that the earl will allow him to command Will Skeat's archers, but instead he wants Thomas to pursue the Holy Grail, directing him and the archers to Thomas's ancestral home of Astarac in Gascony, where the grail is now believed to be hidden. In Gascony, Thomas meets the beautiful heretic Genevieve, who, like Thomas, was tortured by church inquisitors. He saves her from death at the stake, boldly thwarting church ruling and thereby damaging his command, his friendships, and his search for the grail. Outcast and on the run, Thomas is once again challenged by his cousin and bitter enemy, Guy Vexille. Cornwell delivers intense and detailed battle action to illustrate just how mad men will be driven by the grail. Though at times the complex plot seems unwieldy, Heretic ultimately satisfies. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/03.]-Jean Langlais, St. Charles P.L., IL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Beset by the plague and those hellacious Dominican inquisitors, the sure-shot hero of Cornwell's Archer series (Vagabond, 2002, etc.) continues his eventful search for the Holy Grail. Armed with his own Weapon of Mass Destruction, the deadly English longbow Thomas Hookton, né (on the wrong side of the sheets) Vexille, has made it through the battle of Crecy and torture at the hands of a Dominican madman, comforted by a succession of equally tough and healthy young ladies, to arrive at last in the Languedoc, the southern French country where the Vexilles, before falling into the Cathar heresy, were lords of Astarac and where the few clues left by Thomas's father seem to lead to the holy relic. Accompanied by Robbie Douglas, the tough young Scot he rescued in Vagabond and by landless, one-eyed, Norman turncoat Sir Guillaume D'Evecque, and backed by his own posse of longbowmen, Thomas has seized the stronghold of Castillon d'Arbazon in order to lure his ruthless crypto-Cathar cousin Guy Vexille to the neighborhood. Guy and Thomas each believe the other holds the clues to the location of the Grail that everybody is sure the Vexilles held and hid. Everybody, that is, except the spectacularly cynical Cardinal Archbishop Louis Bessieres, who has imprisoned a gifted Parisian goldsmith and his doxy with orders to run up a state-of-the-art fake, which, once planted and then "discovered," will put the Cardinal in the papal throne at Avignon. There is, of course, a lovely lass for Tom in Castillon d'Arbazon. She's Genevieve, scheduled for burning by a creepy fanatic priest who decided, after some lustful torture, that she's a heretic. Lissome, blond, and a quick student of the crossbow, Genevieve,property of the devil though she may be, is just the gal for our archer, and together they take on the Cardinal, Guy, the local baron, and any number of Genoese crossbowmen, and, as the Black Plague arrives, get their hands on the box that leads to the cup of everyone's dreams. The usual Cornwell bull's-eye.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Grail Quest Series , #3
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.82(d)

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One

The Count of Berat was old, pious and learned. He had lived sixty-five years and liked to boast that he had not left his fiefdom for the last forty of them. His stronghold was the great castle of Berat. It stood on a limestone hill above the town of Berat, which was almost surrounded by the River Berat that made the county of Berat so fertile. There were olives, grapes, pears, plums, barley and women. The Count liked them all. He had married five times, each new wife younger than the last, but none had provided him with a child. He had not even spawned a bastard on a milkmaid though, God knew, it was not for lack of trying.

That absence of children had persuaded the Count that God had cursed him and so in his old age he had surrounded himself with priests. The town had a cathedral and eighteen churches, with a bishop, canons and priests to fill them, and there was a house of Dominican friars by the east gate. The Count blessed the town with two new churches and built a convent high on the western hill across the river and beyond the vineyards. He employed a chaplain and, at great expense, he purchased a handful of the straw that had lined the manger in which the baby Jesus had been laid at his birth. The Count encased the straw in crystal, gold and gems, and placed the reliquary on the altar of the castle's chapel and prayed to it each day, but even that sacred talisman did not help. His fifth wife was seventeen and plump and healthy and, like the others, barren.

At first the Count suspected that he had been cheated in his purchase of the holy straw, but his chaplain assured him that the relic had come from the papal palace at Avignon and produced a letter signed by the Holy Father himself guaranteeing that the straw was indeed the Christ-child's bedding. Then the Count had his new wife examined by four eminent doctors and those worthies decreed that her urine was clear, her parts whole and her appetites healthy, and so the Count employed his own learning in search of an heir. Hippocrates had written of the effect of pictures on conception and so the Count ordered a painter to decorate the walls of his wife's bedchamber with pictures of the Virgin and child; he ate red beans and kept his rooms warm. Nothing worked. It was not the Count's fault, he knew that. He had planted barley seeds in two pots and watered one with his new wife's urine and one with his own, and both pots had sprouted seedlings and that, the doctors said, proved that both the Count and Countess were fertile.

Which meant, the Count had decided, that he was cursed. So he turned more avidly to religion because he knew he did not have much time left. Aristotle had written that the age of seventy was the limit of a man's ability, and so the Count had just five years to work his miracle. Then, one autumn morning, though he did not realize it at the time, his prayers were answered.

Churchmen came from Paris. Three priests and a monk arrived at Berat and they brought a letter from Louis Bessières, Cardinal and Archbishop of Livorno, Papal Legate to the Court of France, and the letter was humble, respectful and threatening. It requested that Brother Jerome, a young monk of formidable learning, be allowed to examine the records of Berat. "It is well known to us," the Cardinal Archbishop had written in elegant Latin, "that you possess a great love of all manuscripts, both pagan and Christian, and so entreat you, for the love of Christ and for the furtherance of His kingdom, to allow our Brother Jerome to examine your muniments." Which was fine, so far as it went, for the Count of Berat did indeed possess a library and a manuscript collection that was probably the most extensive in all Gascony, if not in all southern Christendom, but what the letter did not make clear was why the Cardinal Archbishop was so interested in the castle's muniments. As for the reference to pagan works, that was a threat. Refuse this request, the Cardinal Archbishop was saying, and I shall set the holy dogs of the Dominicans and the Inquisitors onto your county and they will find that the pagan works encourage heresy. Then the trials and the burnings would begin, neither of which would affect the Count directly, but there would be indulgences to buy if his soul was not to be damned. The Church had a glutton's appetite for money and everyone knew the Count of Berat was rich. So the Count did not want to offend the Cardinal Archbishop, but he did want to know why His Eminence had suddenly become interested in Berat.

Which was why the Count had summoned Father Roubert, the chief Dominican in the town of Berat, to the great hall of the castle, which had long ceased to be a place of feasting, but instead was lined with shelves on which old documents moldered and precious handwritten books were wrapped in oiled leather.

Father Roubert was just thirty-two years old. He was the son of a tanner in the town and had risen in the Church thanks to the Count's patronage. He was very tall, very stern, with black hair cut so short that it reminded the Count of the stiff-bristled brushes the armorers used to burnish the coats of mail. Father Roubert was also, this fine morning, angry. "I have business in Castillon d'Arbizon tomorrow," he said, "and will need to leave within the hour if I am to reach the town in daylight."

The Count ignored the rudeness in Father Roubert's tone. The Dominican liked to treat the Count as an equal, an impudence the Count tolerated because it amused him ...

Heretic. 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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Heretic 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 75 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you enjoy good historical fiction - correct geography -weapons - social order - and a fast paced story, have fun!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This last installment of the Grail Quest Series was more of the same bloody battles, strained friendships/alliances, and predictable outcomes as the two previous books. It did pick up some toward the end of the book, but then the actual end was somewhat anti-climatic and ended where the story began really. It was a decent summer read and since the series was much smaller than others Cornwell has done, it was not difficult to finish in a short time frame. Entertaining but I'd recommend Saxon Tales series for anyone who wants more lively characters and plot lines and who has a few months to spend reading all the installments.
sawbuckthegray More than 1 year ago
Highly recommended if you enjoy historical novels and Bernard Cornwell is a master. After reading teh first in the series "The Archer's Tale" I had to do the sequels "Vagabond" and this "Heretic". None disappointed. I have read the Saxon Series as well so you might say I'm a huge Cromwell fan. While he explains his literary opton to depart from true history, I still feel I get a bit of history taught to me in each novel. This one with its Inquisition torture description was a stark reminder of what man can do to another in the name of God - or what he believes he must do. I found most interesting the technology of archery he describes and it was a revelation the important role the archer played in England's history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ok not his best work
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The journey of Thomas of Hookton is rich in characrer development, givinv one a real sense for the lawlessness and meaness of the Dark Ages. A truue mideaval page turner without the fakery of current fantasy novels.
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skybird67 More than 1 year ago
Bernard Cornwell is my favorite historical fiction writer. The grail quest series is great and The Heretic is the best of the three books.
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carlosmock More than 1 year ago
Heretic by Bernard Cornwell - Book Three of The Grail Quest This is the conclusion of The Grail Series by Bernard Cornwell. The book opens with the battle of Nieulay, where the French defeat the British. However, unable to cross the River Ham, and engage the British army, the French withdrew and Calais fell to the British. Thomas is commanded by the Lord of Northampton to seek the Grail and take back some of his lands in Gascony. Thomas, commanding men at arms and British arches take the Castillon d’Arbizon and saves a heretic woman, Genevieve, from being burned at the stake. As Thomas’ men plunder the countryside for food and provisions, they are engaged in troubles. Genevieve kills father Roubert, her inquisitor, and the bishops declare Thomas and Genevieve heretics. Two groups are formed - one lead by Robbie Douglass, Thomas Scottish friend, and the other by Sir Guillaume d’Evecque. Robbie wants to burn Genevieve and turn Thomas to the church, and Sir Guillaume pledges allegiance to Thomas. Thomas is forced to leave his men under Sir Guillaume and he and Genevieve become fugitives. They are attacked by corridors and seek shelter at the abbey in Astarac. There they are greeted by abbot Planchard, who knows Thomas is after the Grail. The abbot advices Thomas that the grail should be destroyed because the world is not ready for it. Meanwhile, Cardinal Louis Bessieres of Paris is making a “fake” grail so that he can be made Pope. His brother, Charles, is in charge of a band of men at arms whose job is to take the fake grail to Astarac and have the grail discovered after they capture Thomas. Thomas cousin, Sir Guy Vexille, is also looking for the Grail. Guy’s men attack the abbey and kill Abbot Planchard, while Thomas and Genevieve are in hiding - thus witnessing the event. Not knowing what to do, Thomas and Genevieve escape back to the Castillon d’Arbizon to “die amongst friends.” They find the castle in siege by the new count of Berat - Joscelyn - and they enter the castle and they find the fake grail that was held by Charles. Thomas figures out that the grail is fake and, as the siege concludes, Thomas kills his cousin, thus avenging his father’s death. He also finds the true grail, which was in Hookton all along. 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. The book has only two battles and is shorter so its a pleasure to read. I would have made all three parts of the book into just one book. The author could have saved the trouble of describing what had transpired in previous books, thus shortening the length of the tale and avoiding having to repeat himself to make each book stand on its own. I read the book in three days and I recommend the book to anyone who, like me, enjoys historical fiction.
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Very interesting book , great depth, another fine read by Cornwell
MBGH More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed the series and highly recommend it to fans of Bernard Cornwell
J3v0n More than 1 year ago
Entertaining I admit that I had low expectation when I picked up "Heretic". But this book proved me wrong. A quest for the Holy Grail leads to pillaging, skirmishes, and the accusation of heresy for those who fall out with the Church. "Heretic" does a good job of showing men who'll do anything to possess this holy relic. There's a nice blend of action, religious fanaticism, and drama. The characters are memorable as well. If your looking for a good medieval fiction then try this title.
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