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Vagabond by Bernard Cornwell

Vagabond (2002)

by Bernard Cornwell

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1,515294,880 (3.8)42
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    The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: These gritty and richly detailed historical thrillers are about redemption and a higher purpose -- in Paris an architect works to hide Jews from the Nazis and in Vagabond a soldier hunts for the Holy Grail.

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Cornwell's gift for integrating history and mythology continues in this book, the second of the Grail Quest series. All the characters from the first book are back to help transport us to the age of the Hundred Year's War. Whereas the first novel takes us to France and Crecy, this book detours to Northern England and introduces us to the Battle of Neville's Cross, which in its own way may have been as important as any of the more famous battles in France. We are also introduced to an Inquisition, a subject that Cornwell again handles very well as he avoids going over the top and instead shares with us the pain and terror that those on the receiving end must have felt. And the climactic battle of La Roche Derrien ties all the plot hooks together and provides a very satisfying conclusion to the novel, if not to Thomas of Hookton's story. ( )
  NishaGreyjoy | Sep 26, 2017 |
"The entire first third of the book is devoted to the infamous battle of the Scots and the English that took place at Durham in October 1346. Just before blood-soaked part one of the novel begins in earnest, Cornwell sows the seeds for the actual plot, the meeting between Thomas of Hookton and his arch nemesis, his cousin, the evil Guy of Vexhille. Guy is heir to the ancient aristocratic title Thomas' father once held: Count of Astarac.

And the Vexhille family were once hunted down as heretics, allies of the Knights Templar who, among other precious religious treasures, had had possession of the Holy Grail. The Templars made a member of the Astarac clan the cup-bearer, or treasurer, and charged the Vexhille family with the safekeeping of the Grail, when European kings and papal clerics became jealous of the Knights Templar riches and power and declared them heretics.

To be honest, I didn't like the beginning that much; it was too slow. I got rather fed up reading about men-at-arms, knights and archers chopping each other to bits by a variety of gruesome methods. Seven or eight thousand agonizing Scottish deaths later, the plot finally got started.

In drip feed fashion we learn that Thomas' father, a mad priest with a taste for sin, believed that his heretic family had been put in charge of looking after the Grail, the most holy of all relics in Christendom. In a book he charted his thoughts and discoveries, shrouding what was already a mystery into an even deeper one with ancient religious quotations only the most educated of people can still decipher.

Before Thomas can even decide if he believes in the existence of the Grail or not, he's up to his eyeballs in papal conspiracies and hounded by fortune hunters, his cousin and an obsessed Inquisitor, who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the grail. It's a brutal part of medieval history and Cornwell never lets us forget that life was cheap and meant little, when priests could give absolution for sins for a few coins and assure sinners of everlasting happiness in the afterlife.

Anyway, my greatest critique of Cornwell's books is that he is so intent on writing for a male audience that he is incapable of writing about women. His readers' obvious fixation with rape fantasies has gotten the better of this author. Every single time a woman is mentioned in any of his books, she either has been raped repeatedly, is about to be raped or died because of it. This novel is more of the same. Museum archives all over Europe hold plenty of household accounts, diaries and other documents from the Middle Ages that show us how wives, daughters and dowager mothers had to cope when their knights went off to fight on behalf of king and country. These women had to look after vast estates, order tenants and serfs about, and be able to command household garrisons who were protecting their castles. They didn't do that by being shrinking violets or timid bunnies, and if you think about it, knights would hardly have left their womenfolk in charge of these estates, if they had to worry about their women getting raped by supposedly faithful retainers the moment knights had trotted off across the drawbridge. For the sheer reason of the author, apparently, being lazy enough so as not to, apparently, research properly before writing his books, I'm marking down the star rating here on Goodreads.

The Last Passage
Thomas went to the engineers' tents and found a pickaxe, a mattock and a shovel. He dug a grave beside Stonewhip and tipped Skeat into the damp soil and tried to say a prayer, but he could not think of one, and then he remembered the coin for the ferryman and so he went to the Lord of Roncelets's tent and pulled the charred canvas away from the chest and took a piece of gold and went back to the grave. He jumped down beside his friend and put the coin under Skeat's tongue. The ferryman would find it and know from the gold that Sir William Skeat was a special man. 'God bless you, Will,' Thomas said, then he scrambled out of the grave and he filled it in, though he kept pausing in hope that Will's eyes would open, but of course they did not and Thomas at last wept as he shovelled earth onto his friend's pale face. The sun was up by the time he finished and women and children were coming from the town to look for plunder. A kestrel flew high and Thomas sat on the chest of coins and waited for Robbie to return from the town.
He would go south, he thought. Go to Astarac. Go and find his father's notebook and solve its mystery. The bells of La Roche-Derrien were ringing for the victory, a huge victory, and Thomas sat among the dead and knew he would have no peace until he had found his father's burden. Calix mens inebrians. Transfer calicem istem a me. Ego enim Bram pincerna regis.
Whether he wanted the job or not he was the King's cupbearer, and he would go south.
" ( )
  AdemilsonM | Sep 2, 2015 |
Set in the aftermath of Crecy, Vagabond looks further into the chaos and destruction of the Hundred Years War. Thomas of Hookton now also has to deal with the Inquisition, the Scots, and personal difficulties in the English Army, turning the plot darker and more desperate. ( )
  bdtrump | May 9, 2015 |
“Vagabond” did not appeal to me as much as the first book in the Grail series. Certain episodes did draw me in, though, and this author is in my opinion second only to Robert E. Howard when it comes to depicting battle scenes.

I do like the main character – Thomas – and also his Jewish friend who has a passion for checking the colour of people’s urine. Jeanette is also an appealing character. Unfortunately she isn’t in this tale as much as the first one.

I would’ve rated this novel four stars but, like all the Bernard Cornwell books that I’ve read to date, I’ve deducted a star because they are all let down by substandard elements of style. Long-winded sentences are plentiful. The needless dialogue attribution drives me to distraction whilst the overuse of the word “then” is surprising for such a seasoned author.

The long-winded sentences are often kept going by numerous “ands” plus a “then” or two, like with the quote below:

>David's sheltron had forced the central English battle back across a pasture, they had
stretched it thin and they were closing on the Archbishop's great banner, and then the arrows began to bite and after the arrows came the men-at-arms from the English right wing, the retainers of Lord Percy and of Lord Neville, and some were already mounted on their big horses that were trained to bite, rear and kick with their iron-shod hooves.And then, from where the Scots waited on the higher ground, the drums began to beat.The drums began to beat from where the Scots waited on the higher ground.'Charge now, sir,' he suggested, 'before they can make a battleline.''When this day's done, uncle,' Robbie Douglas said, 'you'll let me go after that priest.''What would happen, Thomas, if you found the Grail?' He did not wait for an answer. 'Do you think,' he went on instead, 'that the world will become a better place? ( )
  PhilSyphe | Mar 26, 2015 |
The non-battle scenes were very enjoyable, but the author is too enamored with the gory details of medieval battle. I don't need to know that someone's intestines were hanging out or that someone's head was split open by an ax. ( )
  BillC. | Dec 7, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060935782, Paperback)

Vagabond, the second entry in Bernard Cornwell's Grail Quest series, has been eagerly anticipated by those who read the first book, and it doesn't disappoint. Thomas has managed to survive the battle of Crécy. Still nursing his wounds, he is dispatched by the king on a mission to look into the matter of his father's inheritance, which is obscurely connected to the Holy Grail. This most precious relic of the Christian faith is a much sought-after object, offering the power of total victory in war to its owner. But Thomas finds himself in the middle of a battle against an army invading the North of England, and other shadowy forces pursuing the grail are prepared to slaughter anyone who stands in their way. In the ruins of his birthplace, Thomas discovers more about his father, and a dangerous voyage to France brings him up against his cousin and arch-enemy, Count of Astarc Guy Vexville. The stage is set for a merciless showdown.

Thomas is a protagonist drawn quite as pithily as his much-loved predecessor, and the sheer verve of Cornwell's storytelling here is irresistible. We are plunged into a distant age: bloody, colourful and dangerous. Roll on, volume three! --Barry Forshaw, Amazon.co.uk

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:19 -0400)

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From internationally bestselling author Bernard Cornwell comes the eagerly anticipated sequel to The Archer's Tale, in his acclaimed Grail Quest series, in which a young archer sets out to avenge his family's honor on the battlefields of the Hundred Years' War and winds up on a quest for the Holy Grail. 1347: a year of war and unrest.… (more)

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