1356 by Bernard Cornwell is complex and well-written novel taking place in France during the year 1356. When I purchased this book, I did not realize that it is the last book in The Grail Quest series. I was a little lost at first and had to revisit the first section more than once to get all of the names straight, making the 400-page novel seem a bit longer to me. Despite that, I plan to find the rest of the series and start it from the beginning.
The novel opens with a Black Friar named Ferdinand on a mission to recover La Malice, a long and heavy sword that Saint Peter reportedly used to defend Jesus Christ in Gethsemane, before the English find it. Fr Ferdinand finds it in the tomb of Saint Peter, but the city is being invaded by the English and Gascons. He flees the city and hides the sword. Meanwhile, the count that sent Fr Ferdinand is tortured and killed by Father Calade, a greedy and ruthless priest who is also seeking La Malice for personal gain in the Catholic church.
Brother Michael is instructed by his abbot to deliver a message to and join Sir Thomas Hookton, leader of the Hellequin and referred to as le Batard. He is also to go onto Montpellier for further education. However, when he meets up with le Batard, Brother Michael discovers that being a monk is not what he really wants and joins the Hellequin, along with an Irish student O’Keane. In their travels together, Brother Michael learns that le Batard is searching for la Malice and hopes to get rid of the relic so that no kingdom can use it. They encounter Bertille, a young beauty who has escaped her monstrous husband, The Count of Labrouillade, but was being brought back to him in the most undignified manner. Le Batard’s wife and son, Genevieve and Hugh, convince him to liberate Bertille from her captors and take her in. Using their skill as English archers, le Batard and his crew attack the Count and rescue Bertille, humiliating and infuriating the Count. He hires a champion French jouster, Sir Roland, known as the Virgin Knight for obvious reasons, to bring back Bertille. Sir Roland, being chaste and loyal to the Virgin Mary, takes this as a mission from God to return a kidnapped wife to a worried husband. However, once he lays eyes on Bertille and learns the nature of Bertille and the Count’s relationship, as well as the nature of Father Calade and Cardinal Bessieres, he reconsiders his mission and takes it upon himself to be Bertille’s protector while they join the Hellequin crew. Since Sir Roland is sworn to be chaste until marriage, he must kill The Count of Labrouillade in order to marry Bertille.
And so, the crew that is on a mission to find la Malice, is growing not only in size but in enemies. There is the angry Count, the greedy priests, and the French do not want the English in their country.
The adventures of this novel, and the previous three in the series, culminate at the Battle of Poitiers. The French royal army, including the greedy priests and The Count of Labrouillade, confront the English army, who are assisted by the Gascons and the Hellequin and the Welsh. Cornwell creates a graphic and well-researched battle that will keep you glued to the novel. Who will end up with la Malice? Will Sir Roland and Bertille ever get rid of the Count? Does Cardinal Bessieres use the relic sword to become Pope? Can the hungry and tired English band of warriors defeat the heavily armored and trained French army?
There’s only one way to find out the answers to these questions!! Pick up and read 1356. You will not be disappointed!