I love Matthew Harffy’s Bernician Chronicles set in Dark Age Britain. I discovered the books by chance last summer (thank you twitter)and devoured the first three in a matter of weeks (See my review for The Blood and Blade here).Book 4 in the series, Killer of Kings, continues the bloody, brutal, but altogether human life of Beobrand of Ubbanford as he serves his King, battles enemies, discovers dark personal secrets and struggles with his role in all the death and violence.
It is the particularly fragile humanity of Beobrand set against the killing machine in battle that really sets the series apart. Too many heroes of historical action are caricatures, blissfully unaware or disinterested in the effects of their carnage. Beobrand is different, his angst is brilliantly depicted, his self-doubt contrasted by his confident action. It reminds me in that respect of Forester’s Hornblower books with a self-aware, self-doubting leader. I love Cornwell’s Uthred, but he rarely displays the level of reflection that elevates Beobrand’s personality. Don’t get me wrong, BC is still the master whose quality of writing I think we all aspire to, but Matthew Harffy is damn close.
Onto the plot: Beobrand is sent by his lord, King Oswald, to escort a couple of monks and a reliquary south into the kingdom of East Anglia. What should be a simple journey is complicated by the invasion by Penda of Mercia, and Beobrand (as is his wyrd) gets dragged into the conflict. The East Anglians have their own problems with one apathetic monarch who has retired to a monastery and an ineffectual successor. Beobrand rapidly realises he has been sent into the situation by Oswald (used is another word) to sort the East Anglians out. There is a massive battle which really demonstrates Harffy’s skill in blood-soaked brutal combat, but ends catastrophically for Beobrand who just about escapes to Kent (alone) to his family and his past. His past has secrets he is about to uncover, blood vows to fulfil, dead wives to avenge...
I must confess, I dislike the character of King Oswald in the books, although he is not as prominent in Killer of Kings, his machinations are. I think it is some innate Welsh bias having been brought up on stories where Oswald and the Mercian Offa were always antagonists. It's good to see the Welsh from a different sais perspective, but you know, Cadwallon wasn’t so bad. By contrast Reaghan is one of my favourite characters in the series. Stuck in Ubbanford whilst Beobrand wanders around Britain wreaking havoc, her story is really engaging and often a good breather from the fighting.
I have an ARC of the next book in the series, which I was going to read after a couple of others on my, ever expanding, reading list. That didn’t happen, I’m already about a third of the way through it, and my own productivity has dropped considerably. Total immersion in the story is what happens when a master writer grabs you by the balls with his books and gives them a twist. To sum up: bloody brilliant! Matthew Harffy just gets better and better.
Killer of Kings is available on AMAZON and all other retailers