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On My Nightstand: ‘1356’ easy and entertaining way to learn history

 1356 by Bernard Cornwell (417 pages, $28.99)

1356 by Bernard Cornwell (417 pages, $28.99)

My mother introduced me to historical fiction via Kenneth Roberts’s books – Oliver Wiswell and Northwest Passage – when I was a teen. It was love at first read. It’s a genre I still relish.

About 20 years ago, through PBS’s Sharpe series on Masterpiece Theater I encountered the works of Bernard Cornwell, a prolific writer (21 novels in the Sharpe series alone).

In 1356, Cornwell has crafted an engaging tale about the battle of Poitiers when the English trounced the French. The event bankrupted France – because so many nobles, including the king, had to be ransomed. It threw France into chaos.

1356 is a fast-paced novel replete with well-developed, believable characters; some are chivalrous, others are not. Fair damsels, handsome knights, cagey churchmen – they’re all here. Several protagonists are plucked from history.

Cornwell brings life to every scene. We know what the characters think, see, hear, smell, feel and taste.

Other than Patrick O’Brien in his Maturin/Aubrey series, few novelists can match Cornwell’s skill in describing a battle. The extraordinary conflict at Poitiers in the final chapter of 1356 is no exception. In 1356, Cornwell once again delivers a well-written story. It’s an easy and entertaining way to learn history.

Ann Davis


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