Monday 14 October 2013

In Praise of Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell is the English author most famous for his Sharpe series, his writing career began with Sharpe's Eagle and Sharpe's Gold. He is definitely one of the finest authors writing historical fiction recently and the sucess Sharpe books and subsequent television essentially restarted the historical fiction genre. I first discovered Cornwell having seen the Sharpe TV series a few years ago and I've just not stopped. Here's a look at some of his books.

The Sharpe Series
Having been introduced to Cornwell via the Sharpe TV series these were the first Cornwell books I read. Each book from the first book over thirty years ago till the latest book (2006) is simmilar in themes and style but is very much a separate work. The Sharpe books are basically just great fun, their is a real sense that the author enjoys writing the books as much as the reader enjoys reading them and in my case I enjoy them a lot. The books were not written in order so you can just dip in and out of the series.The stories follow the adventures of a British Rifle officer Richard Sharpe who due to his common birth competes with aristocratic scorn as well as his foes on the battlefield. I really love the Sharpe books and even the oldest are still great.

The Arthur Series
I have only read the first book of this series but it was pretty good, in this series Bernard Cornwell trys to create an Arthurian story that is as accurate as possible to recent historical thought (it's set in the 6th century). What I liked about the first book is that it kept the Arthurian magic but you are never sure to what extent the magic is real or just superstition and this is really clever. I did not like this as much as some of his other books however and I wish I knew why.

Gallows Thief
TV crime is so much easier to follow, I never really mastered this crime detective novel but I did read it pretty fast. It was kind of hard for me to get into this properly as I am so used to his military novels, I liked some of the characterisation and felt the book was lively but as I've said I  didn't really get because I'm a bit dull witted as far as murder mysteries go. I was glad that it was in a historical setting however but all I could think of in this regency thriller was Oliver Twist (from a historians perspective I find this embarrasing).

Azincourt and Redcoat
Azincourt bears very close ressemblance to the earlier Redcoat which I have also read except it is set at the battle of Agincourt rather than the Valley Forge Winter. I  prefered Azincourt so I like to pretend that it came first so that Redcoat is the copy. They are not identical but Azincourt is the superior book, I liked the way it showed a different side of Shakespeare's heroic Henry the 5th and it's characterisation was as always very good. Redcoat should not be dismissed however, my major problem with this book is that a certain character had to die just to give it its predictable happy ending and that character happened to be my favourite, oh well.

This one came out last year and I liked it a lot, yeah simmilar characters same kind of writing, still great. Cornwell always excites and theirs not much more to say on this one except it's great. Apparently Thomas of Hookton, the main character is also the main character in the Grail Quest series, I'll have to read those.

The Warrior Chronicles
I'm potentially leaving best till last here. I can never decide whether I like these or Sharpe better. Uhtred the exiled Saxon Warlord is a very interesting character, I like the fact that he is always pining for things he may never achieve and the fraying loyalty to Alfred that leads to all the tension. I think Cornwell describes the brutal glory of the shield wall really well and I would strongly advise you read these.

Those are just the ones I've read but I think if you're not into Cornwell yet then you need to be. A German family friend who is a keen history enthusiast taught himself English by reading Cornwell with dictionary in hand. I hope you like his books as much as I do and this has inspired you to read them.

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