HERETIC is a tale of adventure, romantic notions, warriors in
battle for truths they hold dear, and the search for the elusive
Holy Grail of Christendom in the fourteenth century A.D. Bernard
Cornwell, the author of numerous historical chronicles, extends his
stories from THE ARCHER'S TALE and VAGABOND to a further quest for
the Grail in HERETIC. Thomas of Hookton, the bastard son of a noble
family, is the archer who leads the Earl of Northampton's archers
to the shores of France.
Thomas distinguishes himself in battle for his lord and is given a
new challenge. He is to take a small force deep into southern
French territory, capture a fortress, defend it and hope to capture
his evil cousin, Guy de Vexille. He seeks Astarac in the county of
Berat to explore and find the Grail for Northampton. The ransomed
Scot leader, Robbie Douglas and Sir Guillaume, an English nobleman,
accompany Thomas to France.
Thomas's father was a priest who had kept secret the location of
the Grail, if it had existed. The clue to its whereabouts lay in
the Latin words he had inscribed on papers left behind before his
murder. Thomas doubted its existence. His father had rambled and
been considered a lunatic.
The journey becomes complicated when the archers conquer Castillion
D'Arbizon and become involved in local politics. To administer
justice in the enclave, the conquerors must carry out orders from
the Church's governing bishops. A heretic, a young vagabond girl,
has been judged and sentenced to death by fire. Thomas, as civil
authority, hears the facts and decides that she should live. Local
priests disagree with his judgment and excommunicate him from the
Cornwell's vivid imagery of the time and setting in HERETIC places
the reader directly in the action. Each pull of the powerful
bowstring follows with an adrenaline rush inherent with victory.
His description of the warmongering mechanisms are graphic pictures
of their times. The book is fiction based on general facts, but is
a believable panoramic view of real events.
Priests ruled their local abbeys with ironclad domination and were
not to be disobeyed. HERETIC shows the majority as self-serving and
mean-spirited. Father Planchard is an exception --- he befriends
Thomas. Planchard produces a wooden box, inscribed with the Latin
words Thomas's father had ingrained in him, "Calix meus inebrians."
The interchange between him and Planchard is coy wordplay at its
The accused heretic, Genevieve, is the pivotal figure in the story.
Thomas discovers through her that his quest for revenge and
reinstatement in the Church he knows diminishes in importance. He
learns that peace can be found without the discovery of the Grail.
One hopes that future books will expand this fascinating Grail
Quest series. HERETIC defines the men of the era and thirsts for
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on January 22, 2011