Dear Bernard Cornwell,
Your book 1356 might be the first historical fiction I’ve read—unless I’ve read one before but never realized it.
What drew me to the book was the cover. Four digits above what appeared to be bloodied silver armor, with two golden lions rampant. I still find it strange that their tongues are extended way out of their mouths. But what made me linger was the quote from the man himself, George R.R. Martin. “Bernard Cornwell does the best battle scenes of any writer I’ve ever read, past or present.” I bought your book in 2013; being a big fan of Game of Thrones and seeing the words of GRRM on your book was enough of a recommendation. Still, I bothered to look at the back cover. And there they were, two words that evoked more mystery and fantasy: holy relic.
I am such a sucker for holy relics. I’ve watched a lot of documentaries and movies and read countless articles and stories about sacred objects, both lost and found. I couldn’t say no to your book. But it took me years before I found myself reading and finishing it.
Once I did read it, I was instantly pulled into the world of warring Englishmen, Gascons, Frenchmen, and Scots. I couldn’t help but agree with GRRM. Every time a fight would ensue – even just a small skirmish – I could barely leave the next paragraph or section unread. I had to know if arrows flew and hit their marks. I had to know if swords were unsheathed and lopped off a limb. I had to know who died.
Easily, I cheered for Thomas and his little band of merry men. Although Roland de Verrec was virtuous, I pitied him for being manipulated. Same goes for Robbie. Of all the men, I wondered the most about Keane and Michael—those two were fun. Until the end of the novel, my interest and curiosity remained with both Genevieve and Bertille: the former sounded like a shield maiden and the latter gave me the impression that she hid fire inside her.
“You think life is easy? It might be easy in a tournament, my lord. A tournament is artificial. You’re on one side or the other and no one thinks God takes sides in a tournament, and there are marshals to make sure you don’t get carried off dead, but there are no marshals here. It’s just war, war without end, and the best you can do is try not to be on the wrong side. But who in God’s name knows which side is right?”
That passage resonated with me, especially with what is happening in my country. Thank you for writing such a great book. And for making me look up the Black Prince and why and how he got that nickname. I’ve met him in other books and stories and movies. But I was never curious about his nickname until you said something about it.