My version: eBook
Genre: Historical Fiction The Dark Ages, Britain, Northern Europe
Publisher: Head of Zeus
First published: 2019
Supplied by the author
From the cover:
AD 643. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the sixth instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.
Heading south to lands he once considered his home, Beobrand is plunged into a dark world of piracy and slavery when an old friend enlists his help to recover a kidnapped girl.
Embarking onto the wind-tossed seas, Beobrand pursues his quarry with single-minded tenacity. But the Whale Road is never calm and his journey is beset with storms, betrayal and violence.
As the winds of his wyrd blow him ever further from what he knows, will Beobrand find victory on his quest or has his luck finally abandoned him?
It’s been a fairly meteoric rise through the Historical Fiction ranks for young Matthew Harffy, it seems to me. Not five minutes a go, I was sent a copy of what was (I think) his self-published first novel, The Serpent Sword, and I’m thinking “promising, after a shaky start, I wonder if he will go anywhere…” and boy, has he! Now signed to the mighty Head of Zeus, who, looking at the rest of my book collection, only ever produce absolutely superb books – both in terms of content and outer quality – Matthew now continues his all-out assault on out to be read pile with Storm Of Steel. The title I’m not 100% behind, as Matthew does like himself some of Hist Fic’s perhaps more, shall we say, well-worn phrases, but it fits with all the other alliterative titles, so that’s OK. Though ‘steel’ isn’t quite as bad as the current trend of writing just ‘iron’ when you really mean ‘(a weapon name here)’ so I’ll let him off. This time.
Storm of Steel begins with a cataclysmic storm – to quote Shakespeare in Love; “My story starts at sea…a perilous voyage to an unknown land…a shipwreck, the wild waters roar and heave…the brave vessel is dashed all to pieces…”. And goes up and off the scale from there. It’s fundamentally a quest story. With the quest beginning in a similar way to Ethan Edwards’ in The Searchers*. Interestingly, I found that Beobrand is on a search on a couple of levels – he is searching for his own kin, obviously, but he’s also searching for love for himself, after his bad luck in the affairs of the heart department of recent novels.
You can therefore, maybe understand and certainly sympathise with, Beobrand’s pessimistic, world-weary (in one so young!) manner. Though, sometimes, all this ‘we can’t do anything, because the gods will louse it up for us’ stuff that pervades many novels set in this period, can wear a bit, especially the ‘how the gods must be laughing, which is found everywhere’ – and not just for the characters. The Vikings, who later believed in the same pantheon of deities as the German folk who migrated over to Great Britain and up into (what is now Denmark) came later of course, and maybe their portrayed attitude of ‘fuck the gods, they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do whether I do what I want or not,’ hasn’t quite formed as early as here in 7th Century Britain.
There are also a couple or two Beobrands in every book. The calm and family-friendly, inspirational leader of warriors. And the “Angry?! You won’t like me – actually, I don’t like me – when I’m angry!” one. Though sometimes, the line between the two becomes blurred, even for his friends, his Gesithas.** He is, at other times, many times, the Incredible Hulk of the 7th Century. Except that Beobrand doesn’t turn green – even on the stormy sea crossings – he just turns his enemies red. Nothing a course of Prozac wouldn’t sort. Though, when you look a little at the life of a person in the 7th Century, you can perhaps understand as well, why their mood is always portrayed as more melancholy than kicking their heels in joy. Though, out tendency these days is to look at it compared with how our lives are and what we know, today. That would be a mistake. They had only what was handed down to them as folk tales to compare their own miserable existence with. And as you know, things are always better in the golden age of the past. As you can see from all the myths and legends that grew up around this time, including that of the warrior to end all warriors Beowulf, that they had to have something to suggest that it would get better, that a hero would arise. They need a hero and Beobrand – and I’ll bet it wasn’t an accident that Matthew chose the Beo- prefix for his own hero – is going to go a long way to provide that very hero. Even if he himself is reluctant to assume the mantle, Beobrand has developed with each book and is surely now not just a hero to the other characters in the books, but to Matthews readers as well. I know I’m sold on him. He could still do with a good slap now and then, though.
Storm of Steel is a both a book of surprises and (literally) new departures for both Beobrand and Matthew, and a consolidation or confirmation of the promise I first hoped would bloom after reading The Serpent Sword. I know I take the mickey out of Matthew on Facebook and elsewhere, but it doesn’t alter my deep respect for his writing and the wonderful enjoyment said writing has given, and hopefully will continue to give for many years and books to come.
***Currently listening to Weezer; ‘Death To False Metal.