Vagabond marks the second entry into the Grail quest series. Whilst I enjoyed the first entry (Harlequin), I thought it was the weakest of the 7 Cornwell books I had read so far, with too much emphasis on recounting the history on the time rather then tying it in to the story.
Thomas has managed to survive the battle of Crécy. Still nursing his wounds, he is dispatched by the king on a mission to look into the matter of his father's inheritance, which is obscurely connected to the Holy Grail. This most precious relic of the Christian faith is a much sought-after object, offering the power of total victory in war to its owner. But Thomas finds himself in the middle of a battle against an army invading the North of England, and other shadowy forces pursuing the grail are prepared to slaughter anyone who stands in their way. In the ruins of his birthplace, Thomas discovers more about his father, and a dangerous voyage to France brings him up against his cousin and arch-enemy, Count of Astarc Guy Vexville. The stage is set for a merciless showdown.
After reading through the first couple of chapters where Thomas of Hookton joins a battle I was concerned that Vagabond would be at the same level of quality as Harlequin (that sounds like a bad thing, it is not. Harlequin was still better than most books I read but it was a step down from Cornwell’s normal standard). However, I need not have fretted.
Thomas soon leaves the battle behind and the book moves up a notch. The whole plot has a fantasy type novel feel to it as the quest for the Grail begins in earnest. Thomas encounters many obstacles as he attempts to come to terms with his destiny and the events that occurred at the opening battle.
Cornwell does a good job of portraying Thomas’ inner conflict of wishing to be an archer and completing his assignment. Throughout, many faces from his past make welcome appearances and the new characters are also well depicted. The highlight of these new characters is Robbie Douglas who is forced to team up with Thomas – although I think Cornwell underplays the animosity between them at the start.
The villains are your typical Cornwell antagonists. As the novel progresses however, we start to see deeper motivations behind their characters rather than the usual quest for power which is certainly welcome.
As usual, Cornwell’s knowledge of the time period shines through his writing. He clearly knows his stuff and although he focuses on the battles and weapons used of the era far more than the every day life, you still get the sense of being educated as you read. If only education at school was this good!
There are still some problems with the narrative. Cornwell, once again uses multiple viewpoints in order to describe parts of a battle, so that we are treated to accurate descriptions of what went on, but are not emotionally invested in the characters, although this are far less frequent then in Harlequin.
Overall, Vagabond is a very good middle part of a trilogy, containing shocks and struggles a plenty. I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment.
My rating: 8.5