Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of Harlequin by Bernard Cornwell

Review of Harlequin by Bernard Cornwell

As I mentioned (or at least indicated) a few days ago, I really liked the prologue to this book. It was well-written, had lots of action, drama and intrigue. I found the proceeding novel a tiny bit of a let-down.

It was a good, solid tale of medieval derring-do with a drop of humour, a splash of mystery and a generous dollop of historical detail. Where it let me down was in the directness and detail of its writing. Far too often for my taste (and in contrast to the prologue), it presented scenes almost in summary – they seemed kind of rushed, over too soon. Perhaps I’m just too used to fantasy, where authors go for photorealistic detail, but this seemed to me to be more of a watercolour. If you see what I mean. Points of view also switch around a little instead of remaining consistently with one character.

The characterisation is fine, but not amazing. Cornwell doesn’t really allow himself enough detail, enough words to fully flesh out the characters and as a result they tend to serve the story more than the other way round. The hero is heroic – with his good looks, his mighty stature and his trilingualism – but he’s humanised with a dash of modesty and reluctance (he reminds me of Rand al’Thor from The Wheel of Time; the characterisation in general reminds me of Robert Jordan). The dialogue is pretty good – a fair amount of swearing – and I particularly enjoyed all the French-bashing (and the French characters’ English-bashing, for that matter).

The battle scenes made sense, but as I said earlier, the lack of detail in the writing – in a way, the lack of wordiness – effectively distanced me from the action. (This is something that fantasy writers like Steven Erikson do much better, I think.) What I did like, though was the sense of historical accuracy. In fact, the most interesting part of the book was the afterword where the author talks about the fact that the majority of the fights actually happened, and happened (with one exception) in the way described.

Not a bad book, and if I see a second-hand copy of book two of the Grail Quest trilogy I’ll probably pick it up. However, I just wish that Harlequin had been a longer book.

(Careful what you wish for, now.)

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