Review: Killer of Kings – Matthew Harffy

5 of 5 stars

Series: The Bernicia Chronicles 4

My version: eBook
Historical Fiction The Dark Ages, Britain
Head of Zeus Books
2017
Author supplied

AD 636. Anglo-Saxon Britain.

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?

It really shouldn’t come as a great surprise to me these days, but it still does.

What?!

Well, that Matthew Harffy’s books and stories get better with each new edition. Better story, better character development, better writing, better in every single way you want a Historical Fiction book to be better. Maybe it’s because I was fortunate enough to be in at the start, with Matthew sending me a copy of his first (self-published?) book The Serpent Sword, back in the day. There, the potential and promise was clear to me, now, with Killer of Kings and the Kin of Cain novella, Matthew is really writing his way into the very highest levels of his genre.

Too over the top?

Not a bit of it, just get hold of this superb book and judge for yourself. Am I’m right, or am I right? You’ll know it.

Mathew is in the midst of creating magic here, with his tales of Beobrand’s trials and tribulations. I understand, I think, more about the character now, maybe more about what Matthew is trying to do with him. He’s more mature, deeper and more responsible in his attitude and actions. All of which, is mirrored in the story and the writing. Like the writing, the tale is spreading out, we are also learning more about how the rest of the country was at that time, the ebbing and flowing and shifting of loyalties. But the whole is underpinned by the character of Beobrand, his growing realisation of what he actually wants in life, what has to be done, and especially, who has to be killed to achieve that.

It doesn’t mean that Matthew has reached the top (and had to stop) and there isn’t room for improvement. There are still a couple of rough edges to smooth, some raised eyebrows to remove. But what has struck me most about this book, is the sheer joyous quality of the writing. Yes, there are battles, yes there is blood, lots of it, and revenge and blood. But… a lot of Historical Fiction authors, and potential Historical Fiction authors, do seem to think that all we (real) Historical Fiction lovers are after, is blood. Lots of it. As if, if there isn’t a huge opening battle, several battles in between and a huge battle at the end, we’re not going to rate it. Clearly, the bodice-ripping, Jackie Collins set 300-years ago nonsense that (Cornwell aside), dominates the official Historical Fiction charts, has no place in any genre of Historical Fiction. That goes without saying. But, authors seem to think we need to see blood-soaked, blood-spattered, blood-this, blood-that and blood-the-other, in their promotion of their books, or we’re not going to buy it. Matthew does have perhaps one to many mentions of battle lust, battle-fury, sword-song, (!), even slaughter-sweat (!!) and harvest of man-flesh (groan!). But! That really doesn’t matter. He has become self-aware! And not just because I extract the Michael out of all that sort of stuff: “Why do all tales speak of feeding the ravens and soaking the land in slaughter sweat?” As one character puts it. A good question. Really. However, it’s the atmosphere, the melancholy, the uncertainty, the doubt, the sheer what the fuck is going on?!, he conjures of the period, that is what is making his books absolutely essential reading for true Historical Fiction fans nowadays. I am sat here reading it, while the story, and it’s like smoke wreathing its way around me, working its way up to my head and transporting me back, to the sights, the sounds, the smell and the (to a 20th century boy) different world that was 7th century Britain. That thought is pointing to something else I think Matthew would have great success in weaving into his books. How did the people at the time, feel about their past? Their own past where they came from, given they’re Anglo Saxons, and the history of the land to which they are now come, and are fighting to defend. Beobrand has his issues with the Picts, they’re still there. But what about the Romans? They use Roman roads, albeit fallen into disrepair, presumably also their buildings, and the Wall, of course, but how did they feel about them? OK, there’s probably not an awful lot of source material from the period to work on, but something past the walls and roads built by giants routine, would work its way in just nicely I think. I hope so.

So, final pedantry: If it’s intentional, it’s (another) stroke of genius. He sometimes, appropriately enough given the Anglo-Saxons’ origins, uses Danish sentence word-order, “How came you to that place?” In Danish, if a sentence starts with anything but the subject – time, place, etc -, the word order is different to English, with the verb coming before the subject. “Hvordan kom du til det sted?” Word for word. And, a term we use all the time in Denmark, to mean a very, very short period of time, a moment, some 1,300-odd years after his books are set, ‘et øjeblik.’ An eye-blink, as used by Beobrand in chapter 32…There ya go!

Thank you, thank you and thank you again to Matthew Harffy for letting me be even a small part of his journey. And it’s not over yet. There is clearly much, much more to come from our brightest emerging Historical Fiction talents.

*A tip: Read it while playing The Last of The Mohicans soundtrack – does wonders!

You can buy Killer of Kings from Amazon

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