Bernard Cromwell - Vagabond

Book Two of The Grail Quest
Bernard Cromwell
Harper Collins
ISBN: 0002259664 (Amazon link)

I read Harlequin about a year and half ago and found it to be an entertaining historical adventure. Centred around the C14th wars between the French and English, it's the story of how Thomas of Hookton discovers that he's more than the son of mad priest, runs off to war, armed with his trademark black long-bow, has adventures in and around Crecy, and discovers that his father may have had the Holy Lance in his church, and that his family are linked to the Grail. Naturally, he has an Evil Twin, well, even Cousin - the dastardly Guy Vexille, Count of Astarac who has his own designs upon the family jewels. Along the way friends are made, friends die, women swoon and Thomas kills a lot of people. Hardly competing for the Booker Prize I admit, but it's entertaining enough fare. Sticking a mention of three of the Lance or the Grail into a cod-medieval world is usually enough to elevate a pedestrian plot of course, but Cromwell never really goes anywhere truly interesting with his relic fetishism.

So, Vagabond, middle book in a trilogy, always a problem. Is it any good? Well, not really, but it's not bad either. It's competent writing, but there's a feeling of deju vu with many of the plot threads, and I've a feeling book three's climax won't actually surprise me too much. The story just doesn't seem to advance, and although Things Happen, they're not really that important. Chapters seem to alternate between finding people for Thomas to become friendly with, then lose or leave, and chapters where he chases the elusive family secret. Neither satisfies, and even in the battle sequences, there's a curious lack of suspense or drama.

Cromwell has written much better than this predictable travelogue adventure, but he does write solid, workmanlike prose that I enjoy well enough. I probably will pick up the third in the Grail trilogy paperback to pass a train journey, but I see it as the literary equivalent of a white bread cheese sandwich - perfectly good for the train, but if you have time, you can do better for yourself.

Posted: Fri - January 16, 2004 at 10:38 PM