The build up to the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 has plenty of ingredients for a compelling novel. Whether it is the insecurity of Henry V’s throne as various rivals from his father’s usurping of Richard II trying to regain power, irate Welshmen seeking to reinstate Glendower, stroppy Scots or the French trying to avert Henry’s well publicised intention of restoring the cross channel part of his realm there are complexities and themes available that make modern wars seem trivially simple. Add in the mythical prowess of the longbow, the power of the church, feudal complexity and mediaeval gallantry and producing a compelling tale should be a cinch.
This tale opens with Thomas Chaucer, son of the great writer, who leads a band of soldiers on a quest for Henry V to identify and quell some treachery. En route we meet a French master spy, some weak English aristocrats and a selection of thugs, whores and ladies as Chaucer’s men travel from London to Scotland and back. There’s a cameo appearance by Dick Whittington, whose cat also gets a mention. So far, so good.
The first problem, shared by all historic novels, is that we all know that Henry V was not assassinated and nor was his expedition to Harfleur and Agincourt thwarted. Of course, knowing the strategic outcome does not mean that tension can’t be maintained at the tactical level but that requires cleverer plotting than the author has managed.
The poor plot is compounded by some simply awful writing. Almost every noun has an adjective and seldom an original one. Here’s a sample: “Tufts of coral-white clouds drifted across a lustrous blue sky.” Clichés abound this and the net result is that one gets no feeling of the age and loses the urge to turn the page.
The characters are not compelling, the plot thin, the dialogue heavy and the prose dire. If you want to read a historic novel set in this period Bernard Cornwell has already done it at a quality that this author can only dream of. The blurb says that this is the first instalment of a series and describes the author as “The coming man of historical fiction.” I hope not on both counts.
One out of five.
This review first appeared on http://www.arrse.co.uk and is reproduced here with their kind permission.