Let’s travel to England, shall we? But let’s not go to modern England. Oh, no. No, no, no… nothing that simple. Let’s visit an older England, one existing before the coming of the kings and queens you learned about in school, an England before it was England. Let’s visit the island when it was a cocktail of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and other Germanic tribes living alongside the native Britons. Let’s go to 7th Century Bernicia.
Never heard of it? I hadn’t either before beginning Matthew Harffy’s wonderful Bernicia Chronicles. Bernicia was a kingdom in the modern English counties of Northumberland and Durham, and the Scottish counties of Berwickshire and East Lothian, stretching from the Forth to the Tees. In the early 7th century, it merged with its southern neighbor, Deira, to form the kingdom of Northumbria. At the time of the book, the region was constantly at war between everyone and anyone, all vying for power and the right to rule.
I reviewed the first two books, The Serpent Sword and The Cross and the Curse, here, so I won’t spend time repeating the things I already covered. I am a fan of the world Harffy created in the opening two books, and Blood and Blade is no exception. But what keeps me coming back each time is Beobrand, the hero of these tales.
The plot is pretty straightforward, and there is action and tension enough to make the story clip along at a fair pace. What I loved most however, was the continuing internal struggle that Beobrand wrestles with. There are many factors that drive him: a self-prescribed vengeance for his long-ago-murdered brother, his duty as the king’s thegn – both to the king directly and to his people, the often overwhelming responsibilities of leadership, and an ongoing battle within himself for identity. All of these voices swirl and compete for supremacy in his head as the story marches on, but it’s that last one, his search for identity, which is the real appeal for me. I adore characters with depth and nuance, but also those with a dark complexity that makes it difficult for them to even understand themselves, much less me, the reader.
Readers who love masculine books with battle scenes and lots of action and adventure will not be disappointed. But I submit to the rest of you that if one reads beyond the pace and story, taking a slower, deeper look, there is a feast to be found in young Beobrand. He is a hero, sometimes willing and other times not. But beyond that, under that heroic outer layer, we discover that he is human, and in that humanity there is much to which we can relate.
Blood and Blade is now available for preorder, its release date set for December 1, 2016. For more information about Matthew Harffy and to see descriptions of his first two books, visit www.matthewharffy.com.
Matthew Harffy lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on him. The rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline made it easy to imagine the past. Decades later, a documentary about Northumbria’s Golden Age sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels. The first of them is the action-packed tale of vengeance and coming of age, THE SERPENT SWORD. The sequel is THE CROSS AND THE CURSE.
Matthew has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. He has co-authored seven published academic articles, ranging in topic from the ecological impact of mining to the construction of a marble pipe organ. Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters. When not writing, or spending time with his family, Matthew sings in a band called Rock Dog.