Monday 8 February 2016

Sharon Reviews: The Serpent Sword by Matthew Harffy

The author has kindly donated a signed copy of the book as a giveaway. To be in with a chance of winning, just leave a comment at the bottom of the blog, or on our Facebook page.The winner will be drawn on Monday 15th January.

Certain that his brother's death is murder, young farmhand Beobrand embarks on a quest for revenge in war-torn Northumbria. When he witnesses barbaric acts at the hands of warriors he considers his friends, Beobrand questions his chosen path and vows to bring the men to justice.
Relentless in pursuit of his enemies, Beobrand faces challenges that change him irrevocably. Just as a great sword is forged by beating together rods of iron, so his adversities transform him from a farm boy to a man who stands strong in the clamour and gore of the shieldwall.
As he closes in on his kin's slayer and the bodies begin to pile up, can Beobrand mete out the vengeance he craves without sacrificing his own honour...or even his soul?
The Serpent Sword is the first novel of the Bernicia Chronicles.

The Serpent Sword is Matthew Harffy's debut novel (not that you would know it), and the first installment of his Bernicia Chronicles. Set in the turbulence of 7th century Northumbria, The Serpent Sword is a wonderful story full of action, adventure, betrayal ... and just a little romance. The novel leads you across the countryside of the ancient kingdom of Bernicia, taking you from battlefield, to ancient strongholds or small villages and religious settlements; meeting heroes and villains, friends and foes along the way. The fast-paced action leaves you eager to see how the story ends while experiencing a wealth of emotions along the way.

The two-fold story-line keeps you on your toes, seeing the young hero tackling the enemies of Bernicia - in the forces of Penda and Cadwallon - whilst searching for his brother's killer.
There are some moments of 'head-hopping' in the book, where the author changes the focus of thoughts between the characters. Where this can be confusing in some books, it tends to work well in The Serpent Sword and, to be honest, while it was noticeable at the beginning as I got further into the book, I became less and less aware of it.

The novel is a treasure trove of human experiences; wild, untamed landscapes and people fighting to overcome nature and their enemies in order to make decent lives for themselves.  Life is short and often brutal, and the author does not spare you from the tragedy, but tempers it with stories of deep friendships and a little bit of love.

The story is original and entertaining, with even a little humour thrown in:

 "It cuts the land from east to west," Bassus said. Beobrand thought there could be no way such a huge thing could exist, but it disappeared into the distance in each direction and Bassus seemed serious.
"Who could have built such a wall?" Leofwine had asked as they made their way through a gap in the Wall, amazed at the scale of the stone edifice.
"The same people who made that angel floor back in Engelmynster, I'd imagine," Bassus had answered. "Some say they were giants, but they were just men far to the south. They built the road we're walking on too, I'd wager."
"I wonder what happened to them," Leofwine had pondered.  

The descriptions of fighting are authentic and the author's description of the shield-wall is at the same time accurate and terrifying, thorough and frightening. You can almost hear the clash of arms and the screams of the wounded. The action is frenetic, while the story itself has a depth to it that leaves you speechless.

Matthew Harffy's characters are wonderful creations, exciting, human and - in the case of the bad guys - suitably despicable. From the moment you start reading you are aware you are going on an incredible journey of discovery, though where it will take you and what you will experience along the way are still a mystery.

"Well, Beobrand, Eanflaed here tells me you were in the stables, in the dark. What were you doing there?"Beobrand did not even contemplate lying.
"Grieving for the loss of my brother, sisters and parents, sire," he said, his voice breaking. "I did not want to cry in front of everyone." 
The hall was now completely silent, save for the crackling of the fire and the sound of the dogs crunching bones under the tables. Everyone was straining to hear what was said.

Throughout the novel we follow the adventures of young Beobrand, a young man who has lost more or less everything, and is looking for his place in the world. He is aware of his own demons, but still somewhat naive and easily trusts the wrong people - at first. The Serpent Sword traces the hero's story from his arrival in Northumbria in search of his brother, Octa, through his first disastrous battle, from which he barely survives. But this battle is also the springboard from which his adventure really starts. What follows are a series of events and experiences that turn him from a naive boy learning to fight, into a confident, experienced warrior.

The author has managed to include a wonderful, eclectic mix of characters, who help or hinder our hero on his way; from a friendly young monk, to great war leaders and Sunniva, Beobrand's lover, a  young woman who gives Beobrand a purpose and reason to fight.

Beobrand's nemesis is Hengist; a truly nasty individual. A warrior who appears to have lost all humanity and almost makes Beobrand do the same - almost. 

The enmity between  the two is the driving force behind the novel.

The story is set in 7th century Bernicia - what is now Northumbria - with the action moving from the imposing fortress of Bebbanburgh (Bamburgh Castle) through the wilds of modern-day Northumbria and Yorkshire. Matthew Harffy has done his research well and this shows in his attention to detail; from the weaponry and fighting tactics to the villages and their residents, and the bleak reality that the people need each other - and their warriors - in order to survive

The story-line grabs your attention and leads you on many twists and turns, building up to a wonderful, all-consuming climax. The Serpent Sword is a marvelous, action-packed story from start  to finish. It takes you on a roller-coaster ride of action and emotion that leaves you breathless and eager for more, which is why book 2 of the Bernicia Chronicles, The Cross and The Curse is next on my reading list....


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. The first of them is the action-packed tale of vengeance and coming of age, The Serpent Sword. The sequel is The Cross and The Curse.
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.
When not writing, or spending time with his family, Matthew sings in a band called Rock Dog.
The Serpent Sword
The Cross and the Curse

Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history for over 30 years. She has studied history academically and just for the joy of it – even working as a tour guide at historical sites. She is now having great fun passing on that love of the past to her 10-year-old son. Having received a blog, History...The Interesting Bits as a present for Christmas 2014 she is also enjoying sharing her obsession of history with her readers.



  1. My goodness, this sounds like quite a story. I'd love to win a copy of this

  2. I've read this book myself and it really is awesome. I'd grasp the Serpent Sword if I were you...

  3. Sounds very interesting, will definitely have to read it :)

  4. I enjoyed the ebook but I would love a paperback. Count me in.

  5. Really enjoyed the book. Glad to hear you've enjoyed it, too.

  6. Colour of the page makes it impossible to read the review on ohone.

    1. Hi Sassenach, Good comment. Perhaps the guys at The Review might consider the colours for the mobile presentation. Hope you managed to read the review (and maybe even the book!). Matthew

    2. If you brighten your seting it might help.

  7. Can't wait to read this and the rest of the series!

  8. Can't wait to read this and the rest of the series!

  9. I do love it when debut novelists pack a punch. One I'll look out for the next time I'm treating myself.

  10. This sounds like my kind of book. I would love to have a copy, being signed is the cherry on top.


  11. Rugged terrain and yet to be ruined castles--what a treat.

  12. That was a wonderful review! The book sounds exciting as well as absorbing. I would love to win a copy of the first book of what sounds like a terrific series!

  13. Very interesting indeed , would love to read it some day

  14. This sounds like a book I want to read. Your review helped me understand what the book is about. Thanks for sharing it.

  15. Well, with Matthew's book sitting on my Amazon page as a book that other browsers check out along with mine, how can I not hope to win a signed copy?

  16. Think this book is good? - The second one is even better. See a review on my blog How long to wait for a signed copy of the third? But I'll make do with any.

  17. Loved the book. I like how he stops an incident and then picks up again. Little cliff hangers to keep you reading.

  18. This series has been on my radar for a while - can't wait to get reading!

  19. Next in my book pile to read. Can't wait.

  20. Next in my book pile to read. Can't wait.

  21. This looks like a great read.

  22. This looks like a definite to read

  23. I'm currently about 80% through the Serpent Sword and I'm enjoying it immensely. Very well written, compelling and highly entertaining.

  24. I meant to write that I'm about 80% through the Cross and the Curse. Already read the Serpent Sword and loved it.

  25. Thanks for all the comments from those who have already read the book, and those who are already enjoying the sequel! It is great to hear. :-)

  26. Thanks to all the entrants for the giveaway. Patrick RD won and the book is in the post.

  27. Sharon's review of "Serpent Sword" by Matthew captures the essence of the tale. Needed Minimum Space Her insights delve into the narrative's strengths, character depth, and plot intricacies.