The best medieval epic adventure novels

Ethan Bale Author Of Hawker and the King's Jewel
By Ethan Bale

Who am I?

Long before I started my career in journalism I was a voracious reader of historical novels. I devoured epic adventure about medieval Europe and eventually got involved in European martial arts: fighting in full armour in tournaments and melees. My love of history finally won out over my day job of defence reporting and I began penning novels. The books I most enjoy are more than just battle tales, they’re about people. Good historical fiction isn’t just about the history. It needs more than volleys of arrows and swinging swords, it needs characters you care about. These books combine authenticity with passionate, compelling writing and unique characters you won’t soon forget.


I wrote...

Hawker and the King's Jewel

By Ethan Bale,

Book cover of Hawker and the King's Jewel

What is my book about?

August 1485. The eve of the Battle of Bosworth. King Richard III summons a grizzled knight, Sir John Hawker, and charges him with one final mission. After the battle, he must return a priceless ruby to its giver, the Doge of Venice. Richard believes the jewel has brought ill luck to his family, and wants rid of it. Hawker must also protect Richard’s arrogant, newly knighted illegitimate son, a youth unaware of his true parentage. But the commands are overheard by a Tudor spy…

When the king falls, Hawker flees the field, Tudor agents in hot pursuit. Not knowing who to trust, Hawker and his small Yorkist band take the only course left open: Venice, with all its conspiracies—and the love Hawker left behind there...

The books I picked & why

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Agincourt: A Novel

By Bernard Cornwell,

Book cover of Agincourt: A Novel

Why this book?

Cornwell is one of the best—if not the best—historical novelists writing today. In Azincourt, we follow one English longbowman on an epic adventure that culminates in one of the most famous battles in history. Cornwell deftly weaves in authentic period detail without hitting you over the head with it. Most importantly, he is a master of characterisation and rich prose who makes you truly care about the people on the page. Leavened with humor, grittiness, and an engaging romance set amidst war, I found it a compelling and moving read.


The White Company

By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,

Book cover of The White Company

Why this book?

Probably the first “modern” medieval adventure novel, a young Doyle published this in 1891, shortly after he had begun his more famous Sherlock Holmes stories. Also set in the Hundred Years War, it follows a band of mercenaries fighting for the Edward the Black Prince against the French. It’s mild by today’s standards but a rousing adventure nonetheless and I first read it at the age of 14. It has all the ingredients of old-fashioned epic adventure: precarious battles, friendship, valiant deeds, humor, and a bit of romance. Check it out and see what your grandfather would have read as a boy on a rainy afternoon.


The Last Berserker: Fire Born 1

By Angus Donald,

Book cover of The Last Berserker: Fire Born 1

Why this book?

Like the Vikings? Want to read about real Vikings? Angus Donald’s first in a series takes you to the harsh realities of 8th century Europe and portrays the Vikings in all their aspects both violent and noble. He wears his impeccable research lightly though and it’s an explosive journey that is most compelling when dealing with the culture clash between Charlemagne’s growing empire and the Viking Dane warriors who listen to the beat of their own drum. “Beserkers” were a caste of Vikings who would supposedly work themselves into a fearsome frenzy of blood rage in battle. But Donald goes deeper than stereotypes, showing the mystical and religious underpinnings of this class of warrior and in so doing bringing reason, emotion, and honor to their struggles. 


Master of War

By David Gilman,

Book cover of Master of War

Why this book?

Not all medieval soldiers were willing participants in war and Gilman’s first book in his Master of War series tells the story of one such man, Thomas Blackstone, a stonemason. Brilliant character building and prose is at the forefront here and Gilman’s hero is a man torn by the immorality of what he sees while fighting in France in 1346. More than that, he is the sole protector of a mute, disfigured brother who accompanies him to battle by order of the magistrate in lieu of execution for the crime of murder and rape. Blackstone is a moral man struggling in a world without pity in this exciting novel which sets the pace for the entire series.


The Ill-Made Knight

By Christian Cameron,

Book cover of The Ill-Made Knight

Why this book?

Cameron’s “Chivalry” series of which this is the first, takes the reader on a thrilling journey across Europe during the Hundred Years War, chronicling the life of a mercenary who comes to serve the great Sir John Hawkwood and eventually is knighted himself. Cameron is a master of prose description, scene-setting, and dialogue that rings true to the ear. His historical research is impeccable and like me, he has for many years donned full armour in reenactments and tournaments and so truly understands the challenges of medieval combat. A great read.


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