Review – Killer of Kings

I enjoy writing reviews of Matthew Harffy’s books. It is such an easy job with writing this good.

Killer of Kings is the fourth book in the Bernicia Chronicles series and Beobrand, recovered from his injuries, is on the road again. This time he is travelling to East Anglia. King Oswald has asked him to accompany a group of monks taking a present to King Sigeberht. They come across a village in flames. Beobrand tries to help, but he is outside his own king’s lands and is forced to leave. He rescues one girl, but already he suffers the guilt of leaving innocent people to die.

Reaching East Anglia they find the king has retired to a monastery and his relative Ecgric is king. Neither of them seem interested in defending their land from attack from King Penda’s Mercia and Beobrand realises he has been sent to support the East Anglian army.

The armies meet in a long and bloody battle. Beobrand narrowly escapes, but without his men and his horse. With an old friend he travels to Kent, meeting relatives for the first time since he left for Bernicia. In previous books one phrase has recurred – his mother’s dying words “You are not your father’s son”. Beobrand discovers the truth, but it is even worse than he suspected.

On the journey home he attempts to fulfil his vow to kill the man who defiled and killed his wife. Nothing goes as planned.

Meanwhile, back at Ubbanford, Reaghan worries, surrounded by  people who hate or despise her, what will happen to her if Beobrand doesn’t return?

Like the previous books, this volume is filled with blood and guts. The reader can have fun counting the different synonyms for blood, although I sometimes find it annoying.

Beobrand is developing as a character. He worries that he is unable to deal with the memories of the death he deals his enemies. The only way he seems to find peace is by more killing, but even revenge cannot sooth his soul. He feels the loss of his hearth companions deeply, they died because of him, he should not have survived. With the loss of his horse as well, I am starting to wonder if his mind can survive this sort of pressure. Where can the author take his character next? It will be interesting to find out.

I started reading the book one evening, I could have finished that night, but I forced myself to stop. I had things to do the next day, but I wanted to prolong the enjoyment. After all, I’ll have to wait many months to read the next instalment, to find out if Beobrand can find peace.

Definitely another five stars.

Preview – Kin of Cain

Matthew Harffy has written three books in the The Bernicia Chronicles series. They are about Beobrand a young thegn in 7th century Northumbria. You can  read my review of the second in the series, The Cross and the Curse here. The fourth instalment will be published later this year.

kin-of-cainKin of Cain is a novella (86 pages), to be published on 1st March. It is a gobbet of flesh tossed by the author to keep his readers quiet. I had already ordered it, but was offered a ARC for review. It is a prequel to the main series, set several years earlier. Beobrand’s elder brother Octa, is new to the household of King Edwin and desperate to prove himself.

As usual with this author, it is straight into the action. A cheerful winter’s night in the mead hall is interrupted by a scream. It is a simple tale, one of the oldest. An invincible monster roams the land. The king sends his best warriors to destroy it. Octa is pleased to be chosen as one of them, he soon changes his mind. The trail takes them through a mysterious, mist covered marsh, to towering cliffs and thundering seas. Will they catch the monster? Is it an animal, or something else. Can it be killed? Who will die and who survive?

The only fault, for me, is the use of the term “slaughter-dew”, an Old English  kenning. It suggests a bath oil for shield maidens. But with so much blood spilt, another word is definitely needed. It sprinkles on the ground, it drips from torn flesh and smears the blades of weapons.

I loved the twist at the end, where connections are made and loose ends tied.

This is a great book, to be consumed on a winter’s evening in your favourite chair, perhaps with a glass of red. A distraction from the never-ending news of pontificating politicians.

Better still, huddle close to the hearth in your lord’s hall. Sip your mead as the scop recites this song of heroes.

But beware. What is that screaming, out in the winter darkness?

Book Review – The Cross and the Curse

Last Thursday I gave a talk to a local WI group. I told them much more than they probably wanted to know about the history of the area – I probably mentioned the Anglo Saxons, once or twice. The next day I had a slight sore throat. I had obviously talked too much. By Saturday morning I knew – I had caught the virus/whatever that seemed to have had infected so many since Christmas. I lost my appetite (a real sign of illness) and hunkered down for the duration.

I didn’t feel so bad that I needed to spend all day in bed. What could I do? Read and write, of course.

I had homework to do for my writing group and plenty of time to get on with my book. 5000 words in four days may not sound much, but for me it’s a lot. An additional bonus, my protagonist was wounded and with a fever – we suffered together. Whether it will be readable when I come to check it is another matter.

The book I read was The Cross and The Curse, Book 2 of the Bernicia Chronicles by Matthew Harffy. I have promised a review. Here it is.

When I read the first book in the series, The Serpent Sword, last year, I was very impressed. So much so that I immediately looked for a sequel – there wasn’t one, at least not then. The next book came out last week on 22nd January. It arrived on my Kindle that morning. I was excited. I had read some of the previews, but I was also apprehensive. Would it be as good as I hoped? I can tell you now – It is better.

Perhaps it was just me, but the book seemed to start slowly. If you can call a battle between thousands of men, in the dark, in a torrential thunder storm, slow. And a marathon gallop on a powerful black stallion. I know that stallion well – I spent many hours on his back when I was young (in my mind!) I now know his name, Sceadugenga.

In the first book we got to know Beobrand as he tried to find his way in a strange land, far from his home. In this book, as a reward for his part in the battle he becomes a thegn of Bernicia and is given a home (as well as the horse.) He soon finds that with power comes responsibility. Arriving in his new home, blood is spilt causing a feud with his new neighbours. The story appears to pause as he explores his new position, but underneath, the tension rises. Even the annual Blotmonath sacrifice is fraught – will the gods accept the sacrifice or is Beobrand’s family doomed? Just as he is needed at home, he is called by the King. However much he wants to stay, he must obey. A warrior must always serve his Lord.

I must admit that I find Sunniva, by now Beoband’s wife, a bit annoying, always hanging round his neck in tears when he has to leave. I feel like giving her a good shake, he has enough to deal with without all that. I was near tears myself though, later in the book. Beoband has always felt cursed. On the long journey across the winter mountains, he meets a witch, who knows more about him than he expects, and curses him properly. If you want to find out how to rack up the tension, just read the journey to the witch’s cave.

By this point I was caught. I had to read on. Through the blood and fire, death and betrayals. At one point I had to unpeel my fingers from my Kindle, I was gripping it so hard my knuckles were white. By the end Beobrand must make a decision. Does he kill the man he has vowed to kill or does he hold back to preserve the peace? Is he a mindless killing machine or can he become a proper lord to his own men?

This is not just Beobrand’s story, but that of other men, character’s as vividly realised as him. It is the story of the battle between the old gods and the new Christ God. Of the new king, Oswald trying to control the mixed population of his kingdom. It is also the story of the ordinary man and woman, trying to survive in this violent time.

Now. How long do I have to wait for the next book?