Bernard Cornwell is my favorite author. If you like history you cannot go wrong with any of Cornwell’s books. This British born author does his research before he writes. His books are fiction, but he includes tons of historical facts and at the end of his books he separates the actual historical events from the fiction. Often after reading one of his novels I find myself searching and wanting to learn more about the historical events that Cornwell wrote about.
I have read all Cornwell’s books but I would like to mention the few that made the biggest impressions:
The Sharpe Stories – Are the stories of a British soldier Richard Sharpe, who against all odds rose in the ranks of a British army in 1799-1821. Some of you may remember the TV series that was based on The Sharpe Stories in the mid 90’s and may formed a wrong opinion about the novels. The TV series was a low budget production and honestly a little silly to watch after reading the books. For example, in the novels Cornwell gives wonderful descriptions of the battles where it is easy to imagine the size of battle fields, the heroics of the solders, and the bloody events that describe the facts of a 19th century wars. In the TV series you could see few soldiers running around with muskets shooting blanks, it was a little bit of a let down but I still watched and enjoyed!!
The Sharpe Stories is a number of books that you just cannot stop reading. After I would finish one book I would run to the library to get the next one. You never know what would happen next and what I really like about Cornwell’s writing is that he “sticks” with the main character. Everything that is happening in his books is in relation to the main topic and Richard Sharp himself. Many other authors often introduce “side” stories and characters that I think “water down”, the story and are trying to just fill pages. Cornwell does a pretty good with staying on the topic. This is one of the things like about his writing.
Richard Sharpe is the type of character that you just cannot figure out. So just accept who he is and simply like him! His strong sense of duty and honor clashes many times with his personal opinion. The injustice of the British army and the stupidity of his superior officers is something he had to struggle with everyday . Even his admiration for Napoleon is something I understand- as a soldier Sharpe, recognized the brilliance of the French leader. When Richard Sharpe was promoted to the rank of a Colonel I felt like I myself achieved the long awaiting life’s dream.
One note for anyone who would like to read Sharpe Stories is to read them in Chronological order starting from Sharpe’s Tiger all the way to Sharpe’s Devil, not in the way Cornwell wrote the books (starting with Sharpe’s Eagle).
The Warrior Chronicles/Saxon Stories– is my favorite saga written by Cornwell. ( so far 7 books and the next one is being publish later in 2014- can’t wait) The Saxon Stories is a historical novel about the 9th and 10th century Britain. The main character Uhtred is a Saxon boy who is kidnapped by Vikings. At first he resented his “capturers” but slowly he learns their way of living, history , and religion. Eventually, he accepts the Vikings way of life and even thinks of himself as a one of them . Utherd struggled all his life with his Saxon’s heritage and the way he was raised by Vikings. Cornwell did masterful job writing about his internal battle. Cornwell never took a side or tried to indicate which way of life is better, he just let the reader make up his own mind. Cornwell approached the issue of religion the same way. He showed the good and bad sides of the fast growing Christians religion. He showed the corruption and greed of the Church, the insatiate need for power of the priests, but he also described the goodness and devotion of some monks and priest who dedicated their lives to Christ and helping others in need. The author has the same approach to the old Vikings religion with Odin, Thor and other gods who ruled with “firm hand”. For most of us this would seem like primitive and cruel beliefs , but I learn from Cornwell that in the 10th century both religions had more in common that we would think.
The Saxon Stories is a wonderful saga of the early stages of the creation of England and the role of King Alfred had. King Alfred’s vision was to build a powerful country by uniting all the nations of the British island while constantly fighting the invading Vikings. Cornwell writing is very realistic and I believe it gives a great picture of the 10th century Europe. For example in some of the movies about the “old England” , we can see the beautiful castles or the colorful battles, but in real life the fortresses were hastily build wooden structures and the battles were bloody, chaotic mess of humans and horses trying to kill each other with whatever they had in hand. The phrase “shield wall” is a great way to learn the logistics of the 10th century war!!
If anyone is looking for great fiction book a with historical facts The Saxon Stories should be one of its first choices.
I could not wait for the “Empty Throne” to be published. This is one of the books that you can read “cover to cover” and still look for more. I have to say that it would be hard for some to just read the “Empty Throne” without reading the previous novels and still have the same appreciation for it. In this book Uhtred is seriously wounded and possibly dying (or is he??). He is older and wiser, but still a brute and shrewd warrior even though he knows that he is not as fast and strong as before, he becomes more of a leader and lets others to do the fighting, but still will never hide from a challenge. When the ruler of Merica dies, the political turmoil for power starts immediately, the plotting, the church conniving is ramped, and Uhtred is in the middle of all of it it. This book also has another story line- the relationship of Uhtred and his children. I really enjoyed this part of the book, it was new and very nice twist to the story. Can’t say enough good things about it, probably one of the better books in this series ( in my opinion first 5 were great, book 6 and 7 were good). If anyone is looking for historical novel you can’t go wrong with Saxon Stories.
“Warriors of the Storm” I have read well over 1000 books, but if anyone would ask me for one recommendation, I would direct them to the “Saxon Stories” . I just love these novels. I was waiting for the “Warriors of the Storm” very impatiently and I read it on the first day the book became available. As always, it was not a disappointment. The author skillfully continued the history Uhtred and his struggles to get home to his Bebbanburg. This last novel brings him close! Uhtred is older ( maybe wiser) and still a clever leader , fireless warrior, and now in this new book a loving father ( that was a great story line in this book). This book is a fictional – historical novel that is very educational. I find myself researching all kinds of historical facts that the author refers to his novels. Just another great book by Cornwell.
“The Arthur Books” is another great 4 book saga Cornwell wrote – this is the story of the legendary King Arthur. No one really knows if Arthur was real or just a legend, but Cornwell suspects that Arthur was a six century war lord. Like the Saxon Stores reading The Arthur Books was an adventure, it was easy to lose yourself in the books and transfer yourself into the magical world of Kings, Knights and Wizard. However, do not mistake Cornwell’s books with a Disney’s fairy tales about King Arthur. Cornwell’s books are “hard core” war stories, filled with the struggle for power, greed, deception and the battle between good and evil . Sometimes it is hard to say which one is which.
I think The Arthur Books are very much fiction with some historical facts but is a great read. I read other books about the King Arthur era nothing comes close to the wonderful writing of Bernard Cornwell.
I have also read The Grail Quest, story of the Hundred Year War and the search of a Holy Grail – another highly recommended historical book.
Other books I would suggest are:
“Redcoat: , “Gallows Thief”, “Agincourt”, and “1356”.
The last Cornwell’s book I read was “The Fort”. The Fort is just an unbelievable story of Seven hundred British redcoats in an unfinished fort, named Fort George, and the harbor beneath. The British were tasked with going against the State of Massachusetts army of around 900 men and a fleet of 42 ships, half of which were warships.
This book will keep you on the edge all the time. I live in MA so my “loyalty” should be to the State of MA army, but the British characters especially John Moore ( the main character) are so “likable” that my loyalty was divided ( I know how the battle ended visiting the site few years ago).
What was fascinating was Cornwell wrote quite a bit about Paul Revere, our local hero and showed him in a different light. Not the brave, courageous man ( according to popular believes and Longfellow’s poem), but incompetent and insubordinate soldier who played a major role in the defeat of the American troops.
If you are not big fan of history books and like thrillers, I recommend “Stormchild” or “Wildtrack”– Both are well written books were Cornwell shows his love for the sea and his talent for writing mystery.
I am waiting impatiently for other books by Cornwell and I hope to share my experience on this web site.