The Serpent Sword by Matthew Harffy
|The Serpent Sword by Matthew Harffy|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: James Donald|
|Summary: An incredible work of historical fiction. A deft and skilful author who builds tension well and delivers simply brilliant descriptions of action. Despite being a weighty tome this is a very quick read that is enjoyable throughout.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 400||Date: May 2017|
|External links: Author's website|
It's AD 633 and Albion is a divided island made up of petty warlords who want to be treated like honourable royalty but act like gangsters. Romans are a memory that have entered into myth and the souls of Albion are torn between the old Gods and the new Christ. It is in this world that we follow the adventures of Beobrand as he undertakes the classic hero’s journey. Beobrand moves from wide-eyed teenager to hardened and honourable warrior through a brutal rite of passage as he hunts the killer of his brother and seeks to become a true warrior.
Harffy has a cinematic vision that is apparent from the cold opening that sets up the main plot for the rest of the tale.
In terms of the story things are fairly straightforward and the twists are well signposted. This predictability does not make the book dull but, in fact, helps to keep the tension up and it avoids the structure distracting from the story itself. Harffy keeps his focus at all times on world building, character development and fantastic descriptions.
Beobrand is never a complete innocent but we are taken on an almost realistic developmental journey that sees him move from boy to man. Haffry recognises that this journey does, at times, travel too fast and he neatly hangs a lampshade on it by repeatedly having characters be shocked at the speed of Beobrand’s development. To his credit the development does not come without a price and it is this which prevents Beobrand becoming a Mary Sue. The physical and psychological price that the protagonist pays over and over is all too real and painful to deal with as a reader.
I was completely absorbed by this relatively simple tale. The characters felt real but it wasn’t them that drew me in. The story was interesting but at the same time relatively straightforward. It was the world that gripped me; the descriptive writing. Stephen King, for me, is perhaps the best author who has ever lived for describing people. King can, in terrifyingly few words, totally allow you to know a character as a real person. He is a true master of this art rather than of horror. His ability to manipulate us with his horror tales comes simply from his ability to make us know and care about his protagonists. Haffry does the same with action and settings. He says so little but you can see it all in your mind, every Grand Hall and every woodland. I can smell the musky scent of the warriors even now. I don’t need to have it spelled out to me to know (thanks to the way Haffry has used or avoided language) just how grimy, sweaty and stinky everyone is.
Haffry’s cinematic leanings become very obvious when the battles commence. When you watch Braveheart or the grand pitched battles in a Game of Thrones you can get confused and bewildered by it all. Haffry doesn’t let that happen unless it is vital to convey how a character is feeling. You are there, a camera on the shoulder of Beobrand or one of the other key warriors.
Whilst Haffry is not George RR Martin it is clear to see one specific influence from him in this book; no character is safe. Before we get even a third of the way into the book I began to doubt that even the main protagonist was safe. Due to some key losses you will spend the latter third of the book terrified for the fate of a specific character and given the formulaic plod it shows real skill to be able to manipulate us like this.
I look forward to seeing many more books in this series and enjoying my visits to ancient Albion.
Further reading is fairly obvious in this case; The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien (or any of the Lord of the Rings trilogy) and A Feast for Crows by George R R Martin (or any other of the Song of Ice and Fire series).
You can read more book reviews or buy The Serpent Sword by Matthew Harffy at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Serpent Sword by Matthew Harffy at Amazon.com.
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