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The Serpent Sword (The Bernicia Chronicles) Hardcover – April 1, 2018
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About the Author
- Item Weight : 1.32 pounds
- Hardcover : 400 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1786692406
- ISBN-13 : 978-1786692405
- Dimensions : 5.75 x 1.4 x 9 inches
- Publisher : Head of Zeus (April 1, 2018)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #273,632 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The book is well written. There is a lot going on, but there is no confusion. I was impressed by Harffy's knowledge of that era; it seems very well researched. The more I read, the more I wanted to read. The characters are well developed, not a single cardboard cutout among them.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was certainly worth taking a chance on. I have already preordered the next installment of the Bernicia Chronicles. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in England in the early Middle Ages.
Just because I like a book doesn't automatically qualify it for 5 stars. But this book -- this book -- kept me coming back, hungry to read more, to find out what was next, and where the characters were going and how they were growing. When I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about reading it.
Beyond that, Harffy does several things with this book which led me to a 5 star review. First, his characters. Beobrand is young, hot-headed, and he makes so many mistakes. The plot doesn't hold back anything authentic -- there is violence and gore (some of which may be difficult for some readers to handle), but it's what happens to Beobrand that makes it significant to me -- he learns, he wrestles with what happens around him, he thinks about it, suffers through it, and it changes him in ways both good and bad. But it's all authentic, and I found myself cheering him on every step of the way.
Secondly, Harffy doesn't just write to progress the plot. He tells a story in a way that makes it feel like it's happening all around me as I read. Descriptive detail, language use, sentence structure, etc. all are polished throughout, even when a battle is raging. I felt hungry, thirsty, sick, injured, and tired whenever Beobrand was. I could feel the cold water splashing on my face as he washed in the early morning. Harffy writes in a way that invites us into the pages of the book.
I highly recommend this book to HF readers, to Bernard Cornwell fans, and to anyone wanting to learn more about a period of history often overlooked by modern readers. I eagerly await the next book and will be worried about Beobrand until it comes out!
Rather than risk spoiling the story, I will list the pros and cons of this story below:
*Atmospheric and immersive writing
*Mostly fleshed out characters
*Riveting plot of revenge (if a little derivative)
*Bloody action scenes (described in vivid detail)
*Attention to historical accuracy and detail
*Main character felt a little overpowered in his fighting ability
*Villain should have been more rounded out and less derivative, given a better motivation for their actions. It has been said that the greatest and most fascinating villains are those that you can understand and empathize with on some level.
Top reviews from other countries
This is an epic tale of men and women swept up by terrible events. The hand of fate lies heavy on them but they strive their utmost to seize and shape their destinies. In doing so they court disaster and despair. The novel is powered by an intricate interplay between character and plot, each driving the story forward with unstoppable momentum.
Matthew Harrfy creates a world of unforgettable characters. Beobrand is a young man forced to face terrible choices. Sometimes he chooses wisely, other times less well. His journey is one of pain and peril and kept me reading non-stop. His enemy, Hengist, is a masterly creation, complex, beguiling and utterly ruthless. Other characters, men and women, are drawn so well I almost felt I’d met them. I walked with them in the wilds of 7th century England.
The story moves at a fast pace, with one heart-stopping event followed hard on the heels by another. There’s no time to rest for the characters in the novel and no time for the reader to do so either. I read the book in one sitting. I went to bed thinking about it and woke up the same.
Matthew Harrfy is a master story-teller; the Serpent Sword a wonderful book. I can’t wait to read the sequels.
The Serpent Sword grabbed my attention from the start. I found it difficult to put down and sometimes my school marking suffered as a result of reading this book. The main character is believable and has to fight his way through every page of the book.
One of the best British historical series that I have come across. I am reading the third book now 'Blood and Blade' and it is every bit as good as the first one.
If you have an interested in the history of Britain in 600 AD start reading today - you will not regret it!
I feel a review is required in case anyone checks before reading. From the beginning I loved this book and the following ones. If you want adventure great fighting and wonderful descriptions through out these are the books for you.
I can't wait for number 7. Mathew Harffy has a great skill of story telling and within each book is a poetic descriptive phase which I read over and over it was that captivating. I won't reveal one as each person is different. But this writer has class.
I have read lots of these historical tales and can say, for me , these books are amongst the best.
Book seven in this series is centred on Bebbenburgh castle or, Bamburgh castle as it is today, just down the road from where I live so, as that tweaked my interest, I thought that I'd better start at the beginning of this series, with 'The Serpent Sword'.
Here's the problem; the story itself is pretty good, well constructed with rounded out characters and it moves along nicely, but the writing style leaves much to be desired and has the naivety of a young and inexperienced author. The poor writing style jars the whole story and I found myself, after the first couple of chapters, deciding that I'd flog through to the end but not buy any more from Mr Harffy. At that point, this wasn't a book that drew me back to it, keen to read the next thrilling installment; I was getting through it because I very, very, rarely fail to complete a book once I've started it.
Gradually, things changed. The story drew me in and it seemed to me that the writing style improved a little; it now felt as though it had been written by a sixteen year old rather than a twelve year old. When i reached the end, I was hooked on the story and I want to know what happens next so, on that basis, I'm prepared to give Mr H another chance and I'll buy the next in this series. If his writing improved over the course of one novel, then perhaps his next outing will show some further improvement.
So, on the basis that I do intend to read the next in this series, I wanted to give a three and a half star rating and, as you can see, I opted for three rather than four. Harsh but, hey, that's me!
First, the author has meticulously researched his topic. His historical note, although only five pages, is to the point regarding both the military retinues of major Saxon warlords and their equipment. Also accurate are the small numbers involved in what were the major “battles” of the time: a few hundred or, at most, a couple of thousand on each side. There were several reasons for this. One was that most of this battles occurred during raids and counter-raids, when one “King” attacked the lands of another to gather the loot and plunder that was necessary for him to reward his military followers as the “ring-giver” that he was supposed to be. Another, perhaps even more important, was about logistics and transport. With roads in a poor state and logistics very limited, keeping a large army in the field for more than a few weeks was an impossible task. Limited transportation capability was also the reason why early Anglo-Saxon Kings tended to move with their respective courts and following from one domain to another.
Another well designed feature is the interactions and relationships between the Anglo-Saxon warlord lord and the members of his trusted warband of retainers. These are described in a way that “looks and feel” realistic, with different levels of status and equipment. An interesting feature around which much of the novel is built is the relative rarity of hugely expensive good quality swords, with these, in addition to torques, rings of silver or gold but also armour and helmets, being among the main gifts and rewards that a King to bestow onto his followers.
Second, the characters are well-designed and their behaviours reflect what may have been those of the times. At the very least, they are plausible. The hero himself, one Beobrand from Kent who follows his brother to Northumbria and wants to become a warrior like him, is believable. He is subject to fear and unsure of himself, but he is also driven by vengeance and blood feud and experiences to battle rage. He survives his first battle and fights at least as much through luck than because of skill. He also gets “bashed about” and wounded and is far from being constantly successful and heroic. In, other words, he comes across as a gifted and brave warrior, but also as a believable human as opposed to some unbelievable “super hero”. Other characters and their human emotions are also well drawn, including the murderous and sadistic Hengist who has lost his way because of jealousy and envy or Strang, the huge, bitter, dour and brave smith, who is so afraid of losing his daughter after having lost his wife.
Third, there is the historical context. Here again, the author mostly scores high marks, even if he does “confess” to having distorted some events. For instance, it does not seem that Oswald was already in Bernicia and he was not holding Bebbanburg. It seems rather than he came from the west with a large following of Dal Riata warriors in addition to his and his brother’s own retinues of exiles. Together, they defeated Cadwallon, probably catching him by surprise, somewhere near to (or at) Hadrian’s Wall, but this will no doubt be for the next book. Another relative weakness is that the book essentially focuses on the last months of Edwin’s reign and does not show how he became the Bretwalda of Britain.
I can only highly recommend this rather superb read and will rate it five stars, despite my little grip above. Finally, and for those wanting to read more about this period, but something non-fictional, I can also warmly recommend “King of the North” by Max Adams, which is very readable, much more than only about Oswald and covers the whole period.