My version: Hardback
Genre: Historical Fiction, England, Anglos Saxons
Publisher: Head of Zeus
First published: 2020
Supplied by the author
From the cover:
AD 838. Deep in the forests of Wessex, Dunston’s solitary existence is shattered when he stumbles on a mutilated corpse.
Accused of the murder, Dunston must clear his name and keep the dead man’s daughter alive in the face of savage pursuers desperate to prevent a terrible secret from being revealed.
Rushing headlong through Wessex, Dunston will need to use all the skills of survival garnered from a lifetime in the wilderness. And if he has any hope of victory against the implacable enemies on their trail, he must confront his long-buried past – becoming the man he once was and embracing traits he had promised he would never return to. The Wolf of Wessex must hunt again; honour and duty demand it.
For the first few chapters I will admit to wondering when Beobrand was going to make an appearance! Where was that-other-one? And whatshisname? This can’t be right! Then it struck me that this would seem to be a stand-alone novel set in the 9th century, a little later than The Bernicia Chronicles series that has, rightly, become so popular and encroaching, if I’m not much mistaken, into the Viking Age in Britain. Personally, I’m a great one for stand-alone Historical Fiction, they seem to be quite a daring project these days, where everything has to be a trilogy or an on-going series (better not dig myself in too deep, as I’m pretty sure our Northumbrian-in-exile has a new alliteratively titled Bernicia Chronicles epic out soon). Wolf of Wessex then had a convert in me as soon as I gathered my wits from the breathless, heart-in-mouth, ancient magic imagery unleashed spectacle of the start.
As you know, I have known Mathew Harffy since he was knee-high to a grasshopper and still, every time I read a Matthew Harffy book, I find myself at some point saying to myself “this is the best thing he’s done.” Then I read his next and find myself thinking “this is the …” you know. He honestly gets better with each book and whilst this is in my humble opinion the best thing he’s written, I’m also adding the caveat so far, as I have no doubt the new book will blow my socks off again (and I’m running out of socks).
The characters here are different to those from The Bernicia Chronicles – Dunstan is a great character, and if ever Matthew gets tired of his day job, his back-story would quite certainly make a brilliant read – of course (set as it is some two hundred-odd years after Beobrand and his warriors), though the depiction of them, the sympathy for their plight(s) in life and the sure understanding of what makes each tick (differently), is handled with Matthew’s usual mixture of sturm und Drang. What really impressed me here though, maybe even stole my show, was the forest. The open spaces of Wessex as imagined and conjured to quiet, noisy, misty, threatening, sheltering, dark and light life. Imagine, not knowing when you enter, what is in there, what’s on the other side, or if you’ll come out again. I got a real Mythago Wood vibe coming off Wolf of Wessex several times.
Quite what this book is to mean to the rest of the series, set years apart as they are, I can’t say. It might be that Matthew had the material and ideas to make the book, but wanted to distance it from Bernicia. It’s much more than Ben Kane’s editor hacking off chunks of his books and Benny-Boy then turning them out as ‘short stories.’ What it is, is a wonderful stand-alone showing great potential for character development in further books, and the great potential Matthew has as a writer – it also shows he can write a book without saying ‘battle/sword sweat’ every five pages. And for that, I hereby commend Wolf of Wessex to the House.