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Literature: The Grail Quest
The Grail Quest series by Bernard Cornwell (originally a trilogy, but now extended to four books) is about an archer called Thomas of Hookton, bastard son of a French priest, who lives during the Hundred Years War. When his Doomed Hometown is attacked, he lends his archery skills to the English army, while hunting for the people who killed his father and stole a relic purported to be the lance of St. George. Eventually his path leads him on a quest for the Holy Grail.

So far in the series are:

  • Harlequin
  • Vagabond
  • Heretic

And, set ten years later, 1356. This time he and dark forces are after the purported sword of St. Peter.

Another Cornwell novel, Agincourt, is set in the same continuity but is more of a Spiritual Successor than a true sequel. Its protagonist Nick Hook is also an archer, but he's unrelated to the now-famous Thomas.

Not to be confused with the GrailQuest series of gamebooks by J.H. Brennan.


The Grail Quest provides example of the following tropes:

  • A Date with Rosie Palms: The Lord Douglas guesses this is the reason for the Virgin Knight's right arm being so strong
  • Annoying Arrows: Usually averted since longbows and crossbows are serious business on the field, arrows and bolts being able to pierce chain mail armour. However, they can't pierce the more expensive plate armour, though the force of enough hits can help wear down a man wearing it.
  • Antagonist Title: The first book. The main villain of the trilogy is Guy Vexille, called "the Harlequin" and Thomas's cousin. Today "Harlequin" just refers to a kind of clown, but it's an Italian term meaning "the Devil's horseman" However, the English archers are also called the same thing in French, "hellequin".
  • Archer Archetype: Thomas of Hookton starts out this way — a haughty loner, unskilled in hand-to-hand combat but lethal at range — before growing into a capable leader of men.
  • Armour Is Useless: Only against the right weapons, otherwise it's very useful.
  • Badass Preacher:
    • Father Hobbe in Harlequin, who holds his own in a melee with a Simple Staff, and later serves as an archer at Crécy.
    • In 1356, there's Fra Ferdinant, an old monk pushing 60. He kills three trained soldiers with an old sword which doesn't even have a proper handle.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: Many.
  • Bling of War: Knights in shining armour, dressed in bright colours, with ostrich feathers on their helmets. Justified in that this is a way to aid identification on the battlefield; the text notes that when the Captal de Buch goes scouting, he switches to plain brown clothing.
  • Blood Knight: Plenty. Perhaps the most notable is Sculley the Scotsman in 1356, who gets very upset when he realises he hasn't killed anyone in over a month.
  • Brave Scot: Sir Robbie Douglas, William Douglas, The Lord Douglas - basically if they're Scottish with the name Douglas in this series they aren't going to be a coward
  • Celibate Hero: Roland thinks he's this — he believes the Virgin Mary has ordered him to remain chaste until he marries, and spends his life looking for worthy quests.
  • Christianity is Catholic: Due to the setting. But Catharism, branded heresy, also plays a role in the plot.
  • Corrupt Church: A Cornwell staple, though individual priests are protagonists, and by 1356 Thomas has become remarkably devout, giving a lot of money to the church to make up for the men he has killed — despite having been excommunicated.
  • Deadpan Snarker
  • Eye Scream: Father Marchant's preferred method of interrogation.
  • Field Promotion: King Edward makes Will Skeat a knight just before the battle of Crécy begins.
  • Final Battle:
    • In Harlequin, it's the famous Battle of Crécy.
    • In 1356 it's the famous Battle of Poitiers.
    • In Agincourt, it's the famous Battle of Agincourt (what else).
  • Friendly Enemy: Sir Guillaume d'Eveque kills Thomas's father. Later, he and Thomas become allies, and Thomas marries his daughter.
    • Roughly paralleled in Agincourt with Nick, Lanferelle and Lanferelle's daughter.
  • Four-Star Badass: The Earl of Northampton, who becomes Thomas's liege lord and orders-giver (sort of like the Duke of Wellington to Sharpe), and fights in the thick of nattles.
  • Good Is Not Dumb: A minor example from Roland, a tournament champion notable for his chivalry and idealism. Ahead of the Battle of Poitiers he faces a French knight in single combat; his opponent's friends give him advice based on their knowledge of Roland's jousting technique. The knight is then shocked when the first thing Roland does is kill his horse, telling him: "This isn't a tournament."
  • Good Shepherd: Some priests are portrayed positively, despite the Corrupt Church.
  • Hero Antagonist: Let's face it — the Sire Roland de Verrec in 1356 is a genuinely good and honourable man, expecially compared to the antiheroic Thomas Hookton. He starts out as an enemy, before honour (and love) lead him to change sides.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Largely averted. When he has to fight hand-to-hand Thomas favours a falchion (still a sword, but more akin to a cleaver) or a pole-axe, while pretty much every man-at-arms on both sides will bring a mace or an axe to the field in order to defeat their enemies' armour.
  • Heroic Bastard: Thomas — and the bastard son of a priest, no less. It doesn't stop him from occasionally laying claim to his father's family title.
  • Honour Before Reason: King John of Bohemia allies with the French at the Battle of Crécy and dies charging into combat when the day is lost. He's also blind.
  • I Gave My Word: Robbie Douglas's reason for not wanting to fight the English.
  • Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: One skirmish in Harlequin is between equal numbers of English and French horsemen, arranged with a formal challenge. The archers mock them for thinking they're the "bloody Knights of the Round Table".
  • Love at First Sight: Roland and Bertille. To the point where he joins the English within a few hours of meeting her.
  • The Magnificent: By 1356, Thomas is known among the French as Le Bâtard, and often introduces himself as such.
  • The Man They Couldn't Hang: Thomas in Harlequin.
  • Market-Based Title: Harlequin has the title The Archer's Tale in the US because of the Harlequin Romance Novel brand. 1356 was also supposed to be named Slaughteryard.
    • Also, Agincourt is the US and international title while it is Azincourt in the UK (after the original French).
  • Noble Demon: Sir Guillaume d'Evecque
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Scots and the Gascons are presented as this, in very different ways. The Scots are half-feral savages, worringly eager to kill the English and disdainful of negotiation and peace. The Gascons are courageous, chivalrous, and deadly.
  • Punctuated Pounding: Father Hobbe.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: How Thomas's Doomed Hometown ends up, and how sieges end for the losing town.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Until circumstances force him to leave, Thomas first serves under a troop of archers and men-at-arms led by the commoner William Skeat, who becomes something of a father figure to him. Later Thomas hits it off well with the Earl of Northampton, who becomes his liege.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: King Edward III, King Jean le Bon, and the Black Prince. The "something" here includes leading men into battle, and stealing Thomas's girlfriend. The Dauphin does his best, but is sadly ineffectual.
  • The Siege: Often.
  • Shout-Out: From 1356: "And so, in the dusk, Roland to the dark tower came."
  • Take That: The books contain a couple towards Braveheart, mostly around the blue facepaint.
  • Tall, Dark and Handsome: Thomas


Gods and GeneralsMilitary and Warfare LiteratureThe Great Pacific War
GracelingLiterature of the 2000sGrave Peril

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