Thursday, 7 June 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Warrior of Woden by Matthew Harffy

AMAZON UK £4.07 £14.99
AMAZON US $5.72 $20.99  

The Bernicia Chronicles series
Military / Fictional Saga
600s/ Anglo Saxon

Seventh century Britain was a complicated place: various Anglo Saxon kingdoms were constantly at war with one another, to the west were the Welsh, to the north the Picts. Some prayed to Woden, others to Celtic gods much, much older than the All Father. And some fought in the name of Christ, determined to once and for all do away with the pagan ways of their ancestors. Mr Harffy has set himself quite a challenge in bringing this rather complicated mess to life. I am happy to report he delivers in spades, all the way from describing the tensions between pagans and Christians to the various details of everyday life.

Warrior of Woden centres round the conflicts between Mercia and Northumbria. King Oswald of Northumbria is Christian. Penda of Mercia is not. Both of them will do what it takes to defend their kingdoms and their ways of life. Yet again, war is in the air, and as one of King Oswald’s most famous warriors, Beobrand of Ubbanford is in the midst of things.

Mr Harffy’s Beobrand is a complicated character. This is a man who never breaks his word, who will die for his lord and who, at the same time, yearns for a simpler life, a life in which love and affection can take root. At times, he is tired of being the lean and mean killing machine he is. At others, the blood lust roars through his veins, making him an adversary few men would ever want to meet in battle. Intelligent and brave, Beobrand is dragged along in the wake of events he cannot control but always does his best to fulfil his lord’s commands. An inspiring leader, a loyal friend, Beobrand struggles with the role of a father and has an unsatisfactory and somewhat entangled relationship with his woman  Reaghan, whom he has made lady of his hall but has as yet chosen not to wed. In brief, Beobrand is one of those characters who spring out of the pages as a man of flesh and blood, easy to love and root for.

For obvious reasons, a large part of Warriors of Woden is a sequence of battle scenes. Blood, sweat, pain and gore litter the pages, with corpses lying underfoot as wave after wave of warriors clash and die. It is all very graphically depicted and runs the danger of becoming a bit tedious—had it not been for the elegant way in which Mr Harffy includes Beobrand’s personal fears and experiences. Far too often, Death threatens our hero. Far too often, he knows defeat and despair, watches friends and comrades die. Instead of tedious, it all becomes heart-wrenching.

Mr Harffy writes good action scenes and dialogue. But where he excels is at the odd, casual descriptions of the landscape, of the sky at sunset, of a bird against the sky. These wisps of poetic prose serve as a lovely counterpoint to the grittier descriptions, to the sordid story of treachery and loss.

Personally, I would have enjoyed a more conclusive ending to this instalment of the Bernicia Chronicles. As it is, Beobrand is left standing pretty much in the middle of nowhere, concerned about the well-being of Reaghan, uncertain of his future serving a man who has sold him out to his enemies. I imagine life will not be easy for Beobrand but having come this far I hope Mr Harffy feels committed to giving this engaging and very human hero some sort of closure.

© Anna Belfrage

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