Thursday, October 07, 2021

Heretic (The Grail Quest)

Heretic is thematically in-step with the name of the series – the Grail Quest – but is it a case of too little too late? The Grail Quest is a 4 book series, Heretic is the 3rd; although I am not sure if the supposed last book, 1356, is a natural book 4 because some google searches only had the Quest up to 3 books. Maybe Cornwell saw Heretic extremely lacking and made a 4th book.

Thomas of Hookton got himself out of Edward III’s French Campaign. He’s not a deserter; he formally embarks on a quest for the grail, accompanied by Sir Guillaume, Robbie Douglas, and a small contingent of archers and men-at-arms from the King’s army. After 2 books of being a tourist in Edward III’s part of the Hundred Years War we finally focus on the grail.

Thomas took his small band Gascony the ancestral territory of the Vexilles. There was a hint of that haunting feeling that only a deep dive into one’s past can bring. But for the most part Thomas and his crew saw the Gascony country side as a territory – they are a foreign army after all – that needs to be conquered. This was still the Hundred Years War as in the past 2 books.

Genevieve, the heretic, is the best part in the book is supposed to be about her. What she brings are questions about the Roman Catholic Church, its views and its power. The other side of that coin is Cardinal Louis Bessières, French Cardinal who closely monitors the hunt for the Grail. Would you want him and his world view to possess the Grail should it be found?


Why do people look for the Grail? Its because the world has not been working right, hence these great questions.

The extra added spice is that Gascony which is the western part of France, has begun to hear whispers of the plague. If the series is at least successful getting you into that 14th century mind then you feel the fear, especially in scenes when people are trying to outrun the Black Death. Could God help them? Could the Holy Grail help them? We know how dark the Black Death was, and maybe any kind of solution is a fantasy we would have accepted.

Unfortunately, fantasy was never Bernard Cornwell’s aim. Like in the previous 2 books, Heretic keeps it as real as a 14th century hunt can be. This is not Indiana Jones where one clue of ancient knowledge leads to another and another, all the while actions scenes happen in between. Thomas has his father’s writings, or had it. He can’t google. He was only able to search an ancient archive only so far as the owner would allow.

I like the war atmosphere in the first 2 books but for a quest it is a turnoff that there’s an overwhelming feeling of a lack of movement. Thomas did cover huge ground between France and up to Scotland but that felt more like a war than a Grail Quest, now limited to Gascony they’re holed up in a Castle hoping an ancient relic will just pop up. Character tension – or maybe they were just bored – made the story not the dynamic moving search.

The solution was very Indiana Jones if you remember what he found. The location of the Holy Grail was logical in terms of the story, thematically sound in terms of this 14th century universe Cornwell has setup, but underwhelming in its reveal.

1356, I hope you’re good.

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