Book Review: Killer of Kings
by Matthew Harffy
AD 636. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the fourth instalment in The Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.
Beobrand has land, men and riches. He should be content. And yet he cannot find peace until his enemies are food for the ravens. But before Beobrand can embark on his bloodfeud, King Oswald orders him southward, to escort holy men bearing sacred relics.
When Penda of Mercia marches a warhost into the southern kingdoms, Beobrand and his men are thrown into the midst of the conflict. Beobrand soon finds himself fighting for his life and his honour.
In the chaos that grips the south, dark secrets are exposed, bringing into question much that Beobrand had believed true. Can he unearth the answers and exact the vengeance he craves? Or will the blood-price prove too high, even for a warrior of his battle-fame and skill?
By the time an author has put out a series of books that I have fallen in love with, totally buying into it as a reader, I have every expectation that the next book in the series will not disappoint. It would take a lot for me not to love something that continues a saga already having a life of its own within the halls of my imagination. While I can think of one or two series that have declined over its too-long-lived life, the Bernicia Chronicles is certainly not one of these series!
Killer of Kings is book four in Matthew Harffy’s Bernicia Chronicles, and this newest addition is every bit as enjoyable as the first three. Because I’ve enjoyed the series as a whole, it is very difficult for me to separate this book out as an “individual” apart from the rest; rather I see it as one more step in the progression of Beobrand’s longer journey.
Only just recently home from another adventure, Beobrand is sent south again on yet another errand for his king. Along the way certain happenings prick his moral code, forcing him into action, and entrapping him in a maelstrom of swirling political currents not of his making. He becomes a victim of manipulation, used by those who know his value as a warrior.
His strength of character is tested, and in this he gains some new ground. New alliances are made, troubles seem to be sorted, and Beobrand thinks he will soon be able to head home to sort out his lingering personal issues. Things seem to be going Beobrand’s way. And then disaster strikes.
This section of the book climaxes with a bloody and brutal battle, probably the bloodiest Harffy has penned yet. The results of this battle set up the next part of the book, sending Beobrand careening off down a dark path where the reader is left to question whether or not he can salvage the pieces and get back to normal life.
Devastated by what he thinks is the decimation of his band of most loyal gesithas, Beobrand hits bottom, once again questioning his worthiness and abilities as a leader of men. This is a familiar trap for him, and his bleak reverie is certainly understandable considering what he just went through. In his era, integrity was solidly tied to one’s ability to provide and protect. In this way, Beobrand thinks himself a failure because he his men to be lost. A victim of PTSD? Perhaps.
Woven throughout Beobrand’s story is the continuing struggle of Beobrand’s love interest, Reaghan, to be accepted into the circle of family, friendship, and community that is Ubbanford, Beobrand’s home. A former Pictish slave rescued by Beobrand, Reaghan finds herself in uncharted territory as lady of the manor in a very unofficial way. This role has won her few friends and an enemy who plots with one of Beobrand’s oldest enemies to find resolution, one way or the other. Meanwhile Beobrand finds a resolution of his own regarding one of the longest running plot mysteries since series’ onset. The revelation is sudden yet highly rewarding.
While some readers might find the slowed pace of the second half of the book in terms of the sheer action to be disappointing, I find it the most rewarding, for it’s in this second half that many threads are woven together, creating a satisfying picture of the events leading up to the place Beobrand was at the beginning of the series. Perhaps this one word — satisfaction — is the best way to describe how I felt about this book as a whole.
The heart of The Bernicia Chronicles as far as I’m concerned, is the development of Beobrand’s character. It is this aspect more than any other which draws me back time and time again. Harffy does an excellent job in Killer of Kings growing and evolving Beobrand, making him progress in some areas while he continuously falters in others.
I honestly struggled to find anything new for which to praise this fantastic author. Matthew Harffy has created a conceivable and authentic world firmly set in the distant past, and so far his track record is unblemished. Beobrand and his faithful confrere of gesithas have solidly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with, deserving to be counted amongst the best that historical fiction has to offer.
About Matthew Harffy
Matthew grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.
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