This is history as it should be written, with blood running from the pages and blasphemy in almost every other line. Because much of human history is blasphemy, and Bernard Cornwell knows how to write it: as he summarises in his Historical Note, "No chivalry there, little gallantry and less courtesy." Be warned: this is not a book for the faint-hearted.
Set in the Anglo-French wars in the 1300s, Harlequin follows the career of Thomas, an archer and the son of a priest. The story starts in a quiet English village on the south coast one Easter morning - but a French raiding party has crossed the channel and what should have been an Easter vigil becomes a nightmare of destruction and desecration. The church's treasure is stolen and Thomas's father is killed.
Thomas himself escapes and sets out both to avenge his father and to retrieve the stolen treasure. The violence that ensues arises out of a lethal brew of religious fanaticism and human ambition as each side fights under the conviction that God is on their side -- and each side throws off all the restraints that religion ought to have imposed.
Cornwell doesn't glorify war; to the contrary, his style is often detached, an impartial observer's viewpoint, the result of meticulous research and attention to detail -- but never to the point of dry or dusty narrative; rather he has the ability to zoom in on a particular individual and lay bare the conflicts of reason and emotion which tear at that person's soul.
In short, Harlequin is a good read that exposes much that has been done (and is all too often still being done) in the name of religious conviction for precisely what it was and is: human greed. Read and repent.
Phil Groom, September 2001
Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.
From a review previously published on the London School of Theology website.
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