The composite bow was the missile weapon of choice for a wide range of cultures across thousands of year, most famously used by the nomads of Central Asia, but also a dominant weapon in Manchu China and the Ottoman Empire, and even used in limited numbers in Western Europe.
The Composite Bow has two distinctive features. First is its construction from a series of carefully selected layers of wood, horn, sinew and glue, which gave it much more strength than a simple wooden bow. Second is its recurve shape, with a mix of curves facing towards and away from the archer, which increased the amount of leverage available within the bow, reducing the effort needed to pull the bow fully back.
We start with an examination of the different types of composite bow that have been used around the world, a remarkably varied selection of shapes, sometimes influenced by available materials, but perhaps more often by the requirements of the archer with different designs favouring long range, high power, high rate of fire, or ease of use from horseback. This is followed by a look at the incredibly complex task of actually creating one of these bows, a process that required much more skill and concentration than the relatively simple long bow. This section finishes with a look at how the composite bow was actually fired, and the accessories designed to make this easier. This first section is absolutely fascinating, and makes you realise just how impressive a technical achievement the composite bow was.
Part two looks at the use of the bow in combat, taking a largely subject by subject rather than culture by culture approach. Many elements of bowmanship were shared between the cultures that used the composite bow, so this approach makes sense. The final section looks at the way in which different types of bow suited different tasks, and the military impact of the composite bow (devastating when used well).
Loades is an experienced archer, and this personal experience is seen throughout the book, especially in the sections on how the bow was used, where he can compare historical claims with the abilities of modern archers. This is clearly a topic that fascinates him, and the result is a compelling read that gives the reader an idea of just how much skill went into the construction and use of this powerful weapon.
Author: Mike Loades