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Synopsis

From internationally bestselling author Bernard Cornwell comes the eagerly anticipated sequel 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. England's army is fighting in France, and its absence encourages the Scots to invade the old enemy. Thomas of Hookton, sent back to England to follow an ancient trail that suggests his family once owned the Holy Grail, instead becomes embroiled in the savage fight when the Scots come to Durham. Out of the horror he finds a new companion for the quest but also discovers a new and sinister enemy in a Dominican Inquisitor.

All Europe wants the grail. Many may doubt it even exists, but no one would willingly allow an enemy to find Christendom's most precious relic, and Thomas finds himself in a murderous race with the Inquisitor and with Guy de Vexille, the mysterious black rider who murdered Thomas's father (in The Archer's Tale).

Thomas appears to have an advantage in the race. His father bequeathed him a mysterious notebook that confirms the grail's existence and offers clues to where the relic might be hidden. But his rivals, inspired by a fanatical religious fervor, have their own advantage—the torture chamber of the Inquisition. Thomas, seeking help to decipher the book's cryptic pages, is delivered instead to his worst enemies.

He finds refuge in Brittany, with Jeanette, the Countess of Armorica, but fate will not let him rest. He is thrust into one of the bloodiest and most desperate fights of the Hundred Years' War, the Battle of la Roche-Derrien, and amid the flames, arrows, and butchery of that night, he faces his enemies again.

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Vagabond
Average rating
4.7 / 5
January 27th, 2014
I love all the books in the Grail Quest series, they are among my favorite novels. While I don't feel this book has the same incredible draw as the first novel in the series (second books seldom do, in my experience), it still deserves every one of the five stars I am giving it, and would rank in my "Best 100 Books List" if I were making one. The story of Thomas the Hookton, an English longbow-man, consists of a series of novels fraught with epic danger and brutal violence across medieval Europe. This is second book in the epic saga. It is the tale of a very skilled young archer who is on a somewhat reluctant quest for a rare and powerful relic (the Grail), revenge for his father's death against a terrible enemy, while participating in many real historical events in the 14th century, during the Hundred Year's War. Vagabond continues Thomas' classic tale of vengeance, warfare, and questing. Everyone is after the same thing, some for more nefarious purposes than others, in this nail-biting book (and throughout the series). The underlying gritty realism of the whole thing makes it feel alive and organic. Bernard Cornwell is one of my favorite authors for a reason: he brings everything to your senses with a few vivid words and slaps you into the middle of each scene. Even the smallest characters feel genuine, and have individual, often selfish, motivations. Locations, once described, become real in your mind. During the battle sequences, you can almost hear the clash of swords against steel, the battle cries of the soldiers, smell the blood on the battlefield, feel the whistling arrows passing *too* close to your head! You will become invested in this series once you begin it. When there is danger to any character, it is unpredictable and immediate: Cornwell does not seem to play favorites. As a result, there are moments of high tension in almost every chapter. I will refrain from being too particular, in the interest of not giving away any spoilers, but when yet another favorite character dies in Vagabond, you feel as if you've lost a good friend. This is a testament to Cornwell's remarkable ability to bring these characters to life and find space in your heart for each of them, complete with quirks and flaws. One caveat in my almost overwhelming recommendation: If you are averse to nearly gratuitous violence in your reading, avoid this. Bernard Cornwell simply refuses to flinch from the these moments of high drama and sheer disgust, so if you cannot stomach the sorts of atrocities committed in the name of King, Country, and God in medieval times, this is not the book series for you. While this is obviously a fictional tale, you may be misled by the "Grail Quest" portion into thinking this high fantasy. It is not, in any way. I would classify this as historical fiction with a ton of action and great character development. Thomas ends up at nearly every major skirmish and battle over a period of great importance in history, and you will find yourself educated while being entertained. If you enjoy authors like Simon Scarrow or action-oriented fiction set in the medieval time period, and particularly like the history of medieval warfare, you're going to love this.
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