The Archer's Tale (Grail Quest Series #1)

The Archer's Tale (Grail Quest Series #1)

by Bernard Cornwell


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From New York Times bestselling author Bernard Cornwell, the first book in the Grail Series—the spellbinding tale of a young man, a fearless archer, who sets out wanting to avenge his family's honor and winds up on a quest for the Holy Grail.

A brutal raid on the quiet coastal English village of Hookton in 1342 leaves but one survivor: a young archer named Thomas. On this terrible dawn, his purpose becomes clear—to recover a stolen sacred relic and pursue to the ends of the earth the murderous black-clad knight bearing a blue-and-yellow standard, a journey that leads him to the courageous rescue of a beautiful French woman, and sets him on his ultimate quest: the search for the Holy Grail.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060935764
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/08/2005
Series: Grail Quest Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 116,656
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

BERNARD CORNWELL is the author of the acclaimed New York Times bestselling Saxon Tales series, which includes The Last Kingdom, The Pale Horseman, Lords of the North, Sword Song, The Burning Land, Death of Kings, The Pagan Lord, and, most recently, The Empty Throne and Warriors of the Storm, and which serves as the basis for the hit television series The Last Kingdom. He lives with his wife on Cape Cod and in Charleston, South Carolina.

Read an Excerpt

The Archer's Tale

Book One of the Grail Quest
By Bernard Cornwell

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Bernard Cornwell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060935766

Chapter One


It was winter. A cold morning wind blew from the sea bringing a sour salt smell and a spitting rain that would inevitably sap the power of the bowstrings if it did not let up.

"What it is," Jake said, "is a waste of goddamn time."

No one took any notice of him.

"Could have stayed in Brest," Jake grumbled, "been sitting by a fire. Drinking ale."

Again he was ignored.

"Funny name for a town," Sam said after a long while. "Brest. I like it, though." He looked at the archers. "Maybe we'll see the Blackbird again?" he suggested.

"Maybe she'll put a bolt through your tongue," Will Skeat growled, "and do us all a favor."

The Blackbird was a woman who fought from the town walls every time the army made an assault. She was young, had black hair, wore a black cloak and shot a crossbow. In the first assault, when Will Skeat's archers had been in the vanguard of the attack and had lost four men, they had been close enough to see the Blackbird clearly and they had all thought her beautiful, though after a winter campaign of failure, cold, mud and hunger, almost any woman looked beautiful. Still, there was something special about the Blackbird.

"She doesn't load that crossbow herself," Sam said, unmoved by Skeat's surliness.

"Of course she bloody doesn't," Jake said. "There ain't a woman born that can crank a crossbow."

"Dozy Mary could," another man said. "Got muscles like a bullock, she has."

"And she closes her eyes when she shoots," Sam said, still talking of the Blackbird. "I noticed."

"That's because you weren't doing your goddamn job," Will Skeat snarled, "so shut your mouth, Sam."

Sam was the youngest of Skeat's men. He claimed to be eighteen, though he was really not sure because he had lost count. He was a draper's son, had a cherubic face, brown curls and a heart as dark as sin. He was a good archer though; no one could serve Will Skeat without being good.

"Right, lads," Skeat said, "make ready."

He had seen the stir in the encampment behind them. The enemy would notice it soon and the church bells would ring the alarm and the town walls would fill with defenders armed with crossbows. The crossbows would rip their bolts into the attackers and Skeat's job today was to try to clear those crossbowmen off the wall with his arrows. Some chance, he thought sourly. The defenders would crouch behind their crenellations and so deny his men an opportunity to aim, and doubtless this assault would end as the five other attacks had finished, in failure.

It had been a whole campaign of failure. William Bohun, the Earl of Northampton, who led this small English army, had launched the winter expedition in hope of capturing a stronghold in northern Brittany, but the assault on Carhaix had been a humiliating failure, the defenders of Guingamp had laughed at the English, and the walls of Lannion had repulsed every attack. They had captured Treguier, but as that town had no walls it was not much of an achievement and no place to make a fortress. Now, at the bitter end of the year, with nothing better to do, the Earl's army had fetched up outside this small town, which was scarcely more than a walled village, but even this miserable place had defied the army. The Earl had launched attack after attack and all had been beaten back. The English had been met by a storm of crossbow bolts, the scaling ladders had been thrust from the ramparts and the defenders had exulted in each failure.

"What is this goddamn place called?" Skeat asked.

"La Roche-Derrien," a tall archer answered.

"You would know, Tom," Skeat said, "you know everything."

"That is true, Will," Thomas said gravely, "quite literally true." The other archers laughed.

"So if you know so bloody much," Skeat said, "tell me what this goddamn town is called again."

"La Roche-Derrien."

"Daft bloody name," Skeat said. He was gray-haired, thin-faced and had known nearly thirty years of fighting. He came from Yorkshire and had begun his career as an archer fighting against the Scots. He had been as lucky as he was skilled, and so he had taken plunder, survived battles and risen in the ranks until he was wealthy enough to raise his own band of soldiers. He now led seventy men-at-arms and as many archers, whom he had contracted to the Earl of Northampton's service which was why he was crouching behind a wet hedge a hundred and fifty paces from the walls of a town whose name he still could not remember. His men-at-arms were in the camp, given a day's rest after leading the last failed assault. Will Skeat hated failure.

"La Roche what?" he asked Thomas.


"What does that goddamn mean?"

"That, I confess, I do not know."

"Sweet Christ," Skeat said in mock wonder, "he doesn't know everything."

"It is, however, close to derriere, which means arse," Thomas added. "The rock of the arse is my best translation."

Skeat opened his mouth to say something, but just then the first of La Roche-Derrien's church bells sounded the alarm. It was the cracked bell, the one that sounded so harsh, and within seconds the other churches added their tolling so that the wet wind was filled with their clangor. The noise was greeted by a subdued English cheer as the assault troops came from the camp and pounded up the road toward the town's southern gate. The leading men carried ladders, the rest had swords and axes. The Earl of Northampton led the assault, as he had led all the others, conspicuous in his plate armor half covered by a surcoat showing his badge of the lions and stars.

"You know what to do!" Skeat bellowed.


Excerpted from The Archer's Tale by Bernard Cornwell Copyright © 2005 by Bernard Cornwell. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Archer's Tale (Grail Quest Series #1) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 190 reviews.
JohnP51 More than 1 year ago
This was my first Bernard Cornwell novel, which I picked up on a whim. I have been hooked on his tales ever since. If you love historical fiction that is as real as it can get, this book and all that follow are the books for you. Don't be surprised if you start a journey similar to mine of finding and reading any and all of Bernard Cornwell books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm already hooked on the the Lord of the North I have to follow Thomas of Hookton. No one quite describes a gory battle the way Cornwell does and he is so detailed in what is going on in all the chaos with the archers, the men-at-arms....I can say out of all the historical fiction written for this time period, no one gives a battle description like Cornwell...and if you read the series books or some of his non series books - very detailed. One feels like they're right there - in the gore. Like Uhtred - gotta love Thomas of Hookton.
carlosmock More than 1 year ago
The Archer's Tale by Bernard Cornwell (Book 1 of The Grail's Quest) The book opens with an attack on the a small British town of Hookton by the French lead by Sir Guillaume D’Eveque - Guy Vexille, count of Astarac’s mercenary. The town, led by Father Ralph, has a treasure - the lance of St. George - in their church. Father Ralph has sired a bastard with his maid, Thomas, and he’s a trained archer. The town is destroyed, the lance stolen, and Thomas is the only survivor. Thomas of Hookton joins the British army in Brittany and becomes one of Will Skeat’s archers, who served under William (Billy) Bohum, Earl of Northampton. The British have been ransacking the French countryside and the are starving. They need to take the town of La Roche-Derrien. Multiples attack on the town’s defenses have failed; and it’s Thomas who comes with a successful plan to take the town. This wins the favor of the earl, and increases Thomas’ purse and influence. Unfortunately, Thomas has made an enemy of Sir Simon Jeckyll - who manages to beat him up, and even hang him. Thomas survives and lives to fight with the British in the famous battle of Crécy. Based on true events, the book is a pleasure to read. The writer develops his characters beautifully: they come to life masterfully, without becoming a caricature. Points of view are clearly marked and sometimes we take a look at the same events from more than point of view. Cornwell’s descriptions of the battles read like a movie: it almost feels like you’re there. I read the book in three days and I recommend the book to anyone who, like me, enjoys historical fiction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My first Cornwell book and I couldn't stop. I went through three bookstores and had to stop by several times over a month before I got the last volume. Now there's Nook! I loved the battles and the fact it was told from a long bowman's point of view. I heard about their deadly accuracy but wasn't aware how much training and talent it took to be good. Today we have archery. Hah! I don't usually read books with bloody scenes but it's part of history and when done this way I didn't notice it. I was more into how they survived and what if I lived through it. We talk about how unpredictable life is now. Read this book and then rethink what that truly means.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like this book because I has a lot of a ventures inside, including I think may ie this might be a good book for you.
bug_girl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book seems to be mostly about rape, and incidentally about an archer. I just could not get past the way in which women appeared in the book only to be assaulted and carried off. I eventually gave up trying to read it halfway through because i didn't care what happened, and didn't want to subject myself to more of the violence.There are plenty of books which manage to deal with the time period, and even raping and pillaging, in ways that don't turn my stomach. This was not one of them.quite disappointing, because some of his other books are good.
bookczuk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bernard Cornwell has a gift -- not just of story-telling, but of conveying "realness" in his books. The Archer's Tale was no exception. Historical vibrancy, not just accuracy. The characters in this book become real individuals, the more you read. You befriend them, loathe them, root for them, mourn for them... At one point, when things looked particularly bleak for Thomas, I took a breath, and realized that if he died at this point in the book, Cornwell would have had to have cajones of steel to have called the book The Archer's Tale. I do have a word or two to say about Cornwell's treatment of one of my favorite characters in the book near the end (no spoiler here) and am debating about reading more in the series to see the outcome, which I don't think can be grand. Cornwell also has a knack of writing battle scenes that are probably the most accurate and descriptive ones I have read. You can understand the battle as it plays out across the field, or ford or town walls, whatever, and you can also feel the bloodlust awakened in the participants. I did have a lot of trouble with one spot, describing a head wound, that was just a little too close to home for my comfort. (As I was listening to this on audio, I just drove down Calhoun Street saying "lalalala I can't hear you" and cringing/waving my hands to wave the images away when the words got through. )This is the first book in the Grail Quest books, and I probably will read others in the series when I stumble upon them. As for Cornwell, he's on my favorite authors list. If you ever have a chance to go hear him speak, do so. Highly entertaining and informative (and lives part of the year here in Charleston.)
hslone1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great read about the use of the long bow in british tactics. The French would cut the middle finger of English Archers captured in battle so that they could never pull the string again. Ergo, the middle finger salute to the French by the British archers.
Hartman762 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Entertaining and informative historical fiction set during the Hundred Years War. As usual, Cornwell makes learning history an enjoyable experience and I recommend any of his books if you have an interest in the periods (usually medieval/napoleonic era but some others as well).
turtlesleap on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thomas Hookton watches as his village, family and friends are destroyed and vows revenge against the destroyer. He drifts into life as a bowman in the English Army, losing sight of his vow to avenge the death of his father. The story follows Thomas' experiences, and begins to unravel the mystery of his origins and his connection with the man he has sworn to kill. Cornwell has done a superb job of bringing the battle scenes to life on the page. HIs technical knowledge of the weaponry and techniques of the era is backed up by a flair for descriptive detail. He is less effective in bringing his characters to life and, in particular, in exploring what drives them. As an example, the Countess of Armorica "the blackbird" is a major character in the early part of the book. A substantial portion is told from her point of view. Ultimately, she just wanders off. Little effort is made to help the reader understand what motivates her. Thomas himself is an insipid character, evoking little sympathy or feeling from the reader. I'd recommend the book on the basis of descriptive detail and accurate portrayal of the era but it's unlikely I'll read the rest of the series.
ladycato on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is my first book by Bernard Cornwell, who is a rather prolific historical fiction writer across various time periods.The Archer's Tale begins in the village of Hookton on the English coast. There, the lance of St. George was kept safely in the rafters of the church - until one day when Frenchmen raided the town and stole the lance. The only surviving villager is a young man, Thomas, the protagonist of the story. His journey leads him into France at the beginning of the Hundred Year's War. He is content as an archer for the king, but slowly, more clues emerge regarding the raid on his village and the history of the stolen artifact, and they seem to lead towards the ultimate of prizes: the holy grail itself.I love historical fiction, but I admit I had trouble getting into this book. Maybe it was the male perspective. Maybe it was the blatant portrayal of rape, including that of a minor character. The viewpoint shifts were annoying at times and seemed to give away too much of the plot. One of the major antagonists of the book dies without much fanfare at all, which seemed anticlimactic. Still, the historical details were intriguing, if sometimes excessive (there was about a two page spread on how early cannons worked, and then they blasted a few times and didn't do much, and that was that). Thomas matured in the course of the book, but I never felt that invested in his survival.I think I'll pick up some of Cornwell's other books on the medieval period, if I find them used and cheap, but I'm not going to run out and buy the rest of this particular series.
JeffV on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Book 1 in the Grail Quest series. Set in the Hundred Years War, The Archer's Tale follows the exploits of Thomas, the son of a priest who witnessed the destruction of his village and killing of his parents by French raiders. Bent on vengeance and a desire to uncover secrets about his family that his father took to the grave, Thomas joins the English military and sets on a course that ends with the epic Battle of Crécy in 1346.In typical Cornwell style, The Archer's Tale includes a healthy dose of authentic history tweaked for story-telling purposes as need (and explained in the author's note at the end). The only thing that really seemed implausible was arranging for all of the protagonists to converge at the same spot and time on the battlefield. Still, it was a well-paced story and a great read for anyone interested in medieval life and warfare.
lindymc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this first book of the Grail Quest series; the reason for less than a 5-star rating is only because so far I don't like this series as much as the Saxon series.In this novel, Thomas of Hookton serves as an archer for the English army under Edward III, at the beginning of the battles of the hundred years war. Very interesting to learn of the value of the archers within a battle. Thomas grows as a person, as he interacts with other characters of this novel. These other characters, enemies and friends, are also well-developed and add to the enjoyment of the novel.
BruderBane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An excellent beginning and my first foray into the stories of Bernard Cornwell. Wonderfully written and packed with action. I now require more. :)
bookstorebill on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
From the author of the Richard Sharpe novels. Finally read it and found it a good read. At times it seems to be more about the number of battles & people killed. A lot of death & revenge stuff threaded through it. Please understand I wasn't expecting a moral story set in the 100 years war and I know that battles in that time were brutal things. But the main character never seems to develope beyond reacting to has happened to him. His behavoir could be summed up "It seemed like a good idea at the time." For me it's a read once kinda book.
ksmyth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I've read the Sharpe's series by Cornwell, and the Hundredy Years War has always interested me, so gave this a try. We are introduced to Thomas of Hookton, the great mystery about his origins, and the quest he is set on. We also learn a bit about the longbow, and its use at the Battle of Crecy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Liked the book but I'm not crazy about violence and battles. Learned some interesting stuff about that time in history though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Characters were very believable Excellent stort
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Martha_J More than 1 year ago
The Archer's Tale and the entire Grail Quest Series is solid Bernard Cornwell historical fiction. Cornwell is very careful with historical accuracy and is particularly good with male characters and the particulars of battle strategy, weapons and the nitty-gritty of combat. There is a great deal of action and fighting. Using the search for the Holy Grail as the core for the story, the book also looks at how religion and power motivated people in different ways. There are a few love interests sprinkled in the story but do not expect Cornwell to deliver a multi-dimensional female character or an intricate romance. That is not what his stories are known for. Do enjoy the history and the scheming and the fighting as the MC struggles to find his way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Would reccomend...
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