Monday, May 29, 2017

Book Review - "Azincourt" by Bernard Cornwell

This was my first Bernard Cornwell novel and I picked it up because I wanted to learn about the historical background of the Battle of Azincourt, one of the significant battles in the Hundred Years' War, and about Henry V of England. When I closed the book, I was a little disappointed at the dearth of historical details relating to the ultimate and proximate causes that led to the battle, and the character of Henry V still seemed somewhat blurry in my head.

In the sweltering summer of 1415, the English army, having crossed the channel, engaged in the siege of Harfleur (in Normandy), which ended in a hard-won English victory. This prelude is followed by the English march north towards Calais (English-occupied). Then in the rainy and gloomy month of October, the English army had to face off with the far-outnumbering French army waiting in the muddy field of Azincourt in Picardy. The battle scenes are vividly drawn, with lots of gore, savagery, horror and obscenities (and feces too). Descriptions about armor, weapons and archery, in particular the usage of longbows, are expertly detailed. But some episodes as well as the ending of the novel come across as a bit cliched.

I did come away with a better understanding of why the English and the French hated each other's guts for so long.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Book Review - "Katherine" by Anya Seton

I’m giving this novel 3.5 stars. It is overall a meticulously researched and well-written historical romance set in 14th century England about Katherine Swynford, the third wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.

The first half of the book is dedicated to describing the romantic love that develops in a tortuous way between the two protagonists. Katherine is initially married off against her wish to a brutish husband, whose faults include poverty that results from mismanagement of his estates. Then Prince Charming, who is happily married to a charming and kind princess, comes along and delivers the poor girl from despair. Then the lovers find ways to carry on with their illicit love affair, always plagued by guilt towards their respective spouses. I find this portion too drawn out with too many happy coincidences, that is, too much of a Cinderella type of story. The bits about John’s childhood bête noire and his squire’s murder of Katherine’s husband are contrived.

The second half is much better and more realistic and the pace is quicker. I like the back stories about the Plantagenet family, the political intrigue surrounding religious reform and the lead-up to and the actual June 1381 peasants’ revolt in London. But the part about Katherine’s self-imposed penitence drags too much.

By the time I was near the ending, I could pretty much predict what was going to happen.

I’m glad though to have learned where Henry V and Henry VI of England came from, and the origins of the Beaufort/Tudor line and of the Yorkists.