Matthew Harffy: Killer of Kings (review)

Matthew Harffy

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 that became THE BERNICIA CHRONICLES.

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.

Matthew was the singer in Rock Dog.

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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?

Extract

Beobrand smelt the smoke before he heard the screams.

The scent of burning wood was not uncommon. They had passed many small steadings as they travelled south. Each hut or hall had its own hearth. Sometimes, the aroma of baking bread or roasting meat would waft on the wind from some unseen farmer’s hovel, or from a shepherd’s camp nestled in the shelter of a valley. At such times, it always surprised him how far smells could travel.

Sounds of anguish, shouts of terror and shrieks of pain, could not be heard from so far away. And were less common.

There was a light breeze blowing into their faces and at the first scent of smoke Beobrand had wondered whether there was a hall nearby. They had been travelling for days and had not slept with a roof above them in all that time. The days were warm, but the nights were yet chill. A place by a fire and some warm food would be welcome. Perhaps even some ale or mead.

Then he had seen the broad smudge of grey, like a blurred heron’s feather, hanging in the flax-flower blue sky and he had known they would not be sleeping in a hall that night. Judging from the amount of smoke, something big was burning.

A piercing scream came to them on the wind. No, there would be no rest any time soon. Someone was in agony just the other side of the next rise. Beobrand’s black stallion, Sceadugenga, lowered its ears and snorted.

Beobrand pulled the beast’s head back with a tug of the reins. He could feel the great muscles bunching beneath him, ready to gallop forward; towards the screams. Towards danger. Sceadugenga was a true warrior’s steed.

“Are we yet in Mercia, Attor?” he asked, twisting in the saddle to turn to the slim rider beside him.

“I cannot say for certain, lord. We are in the land of the Gyrwas, I believe, but we may already be in the territory of the Herstingas. It is all fen and forest in this part of Albion.” He shrugged. “I cannot be sure.” Another scream drifted to them. Attor’s mount tossed its mane and rolled its eyes.

Beobrand had hoped to make this journey without incident, but the island of Albion was seldom safe. He rode at the head of a small band of mounted warriors. Not large enough to be called a warband, but hopefully enough of a show of force to avoid most confrontations. They numbered thirteen men in all. Beside Beobrand rode Wynhelm, fellow thegn of Bernicia. He was several years Beobrand’s senior. Black-haired, with a close-cropped beard, he was aloof and sometimes haughty, but had fought bravely at Hefenfelth and Din Eidyn, and King Oswald trusted him. Wynhelm brought four warriors from his retinue, all battle-hard, grim-faced men. Killers, if Beobrand was any judge.

In the centre of the group rode the monks, Gothfraidh and Coenred, whom they were charged with protecting. Gothfraidh was an elderly man, his grey hair thinning. Kindly, and uncomplaining, he was always quick to offer his help when they were setting up camp. Coenred was much younger, barely a man, though Beobrand knew that despite his youthful aspect, he was brave and had proven himself to be a true friend.

Beobrand quickly cast his gaze on those of his own retinue, his gesithas, who accompanied him. Dour Dreogan was closest to Attor, the black lines of his soot-scarred cheeks making his face savage. Behind him followed Gram, tall and powerful. He was a mighty warrior, who never seemed to show fear or excitement; a steadfast shield-brother whom they would be glad to have at their shoulder, if it came to a fight.

Broad-shouldered Elmer rode towards the rear of the group. He was brave and bold, and despite the horrific sounds of pain that came to them on the breeze, he had a wide grin on his face. He was still so pleased to have been asked to ride with his lord. He felt that in the past he had too often been left behind with the women, children and old men, and no matter the number of times Beobrand had told him this was due to the trust he had in the muscular warrior, Elmer had taken it as a slight. The last two riders were the inseparable Ceawlin and Aethelwulf. They were woven from the same cloth, each taciturn and stocky, savage in combat but quick to jest and laugh when the mead flowed.

They were all good men. Strong warriors. Loyal gesithas. Beobrand was proud that they called him lord. And yet he wished Acennan was with them. He missed his friend. He had not seen him since before Solmonath, the month of rain and mud. Summer had long since begun to warm the land and Beobrand had expected Acennan’s return weeks before.

Another scream.

Acennan would have to wait.

The trail rose up a shallow bluff. To the west huddled a stand of alder.

“Whether Mercia or no,” said Beobrand, reaching his damaged left hand down to touch the hilt of his sword, Hrunting, “I will not ride by while someone faces torment. Come, let us see what is burning.”

 

Review:

What can i say that i have not already said about this series? probably not a lot, Matthew has continued to push and grow both his characters and his writing style book after book. Any of the wrinkles that a debut writers suffers and clunks and slips have long since vanished and his smooth writing and earthy characters shine through, his plot always have a twist and a turn that is unexpected and death lurks around any page for any character, giving the book an immediacy of the time where live is cheap and precious at the same time.

Bring on book 5 Matthew, this series just gets better with age

(Parm)

 

 

 

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