Book Review – Warrior of Woden by Matthew Harffy – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“AD 642. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the fifth instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.

Oswald has reigned over Northumbria for eight years and Beobrand has led the king to ever greater victories. Rewarded for his fealty and prowess in battle, Beobrand is now a wealthy warlord, with a sizable warband. Tales of Beobrand’s fearsome black-shielded warriors and the great treasure he has amassed are told throughout the halls of the land.

Many are the kings who bow to Oswald. And yet there are those who look upon his realm with a covetous eye. And there is one ruler who will never kneel before him.

When Penda of Mercia, the great killer of kings, invades Northumbria, Beobrand is once more called upon to stand in an epic battle where the blood of many will be shed in defence of the kingdom.

But in this climactic clash between the pagan Penda and the Christian Oswald there is much more at stake than sovereignty. This is a battle for the very souls of the people of Albion.”

I received a free EArc from Netgalley.

Overall Book 5 is far stronger than Book 4 and it doesn’t do what I thought it would do (in a good way).

For nearly 50% of the book, Beobrand is a much happier character than we’ve seen before. I thought this was an excellent evolution of his character, but sadly it doesn’t last and soon he’s moaning as much as in the previous books. This is one of my biggest problems with the series. Beobrand is just not very likeable and I find that hard in a series focused on him and where he’s supposed to be the hero or even the anti-hero. He just isn’t heroic enough for my liking, and will clearly never be. He seems genuinely unhappy with his lot in life – unhappy with his not-wife, his son, his king, his hall, who he’s killed before, who he hasn’t killed before, his horse – it would be nice if he was happy about something! 🙂

As to the story itself, it’s a very ‘Northumbrian’ interpretation of events in Britain at this time – there is no attempt to offer anything other than the version of events as given by Bede and other sources, which means that poor old Eowa gets very short shift . This is a shame as there was definitely scope for betrayal and double-dealing here, but because the story is about Beobrand, the possibilities are not explored. In fact, the major players of the period are so distant as to almost be missing from the story completely – the story we get could have been written anytime, anywhere, it is not truly about events in Britain at the time – a shame really when the events themselves are so significant. It would have been good to have a stand-off between Oswald and Penda – a real grudge battle, but instead, Penda is never actually encountered, only his actions. The ‘real’ (and I use that with caution) events of the period are simply the background to the story – even as a warrior of the king, the focus remains firmly on Beobrand at all times.

Where events are specifically directed at the period, there is a lack of clarity – they are fighting the Welsh and hate them and yet Cynan is Welsh, and one of Beobrand’s trusted gesithas. Penda is a pagan and reviled as such for this (especially for his blood sacrifice) – and yet Beobrand is pagan as well with his hammer necklace etc. This might pass many people by, or it might annoy. I just found it confusing.

Yet if I overlook all those problems, the book is stronger than previous ones in the series. It could have been great but it doesn’t quite make it because of the issues listed above and because many of the battle scenes are a bit disappointing. Maserfelth – the great battle – becomes a bit of a rugby scrum, and it is the later, smaller (‘made-up’) skirmishes, that are written with more flow and clarity. As I said, it’s as though events in Britain are there only for Beobrand to ride through/stamp through and glower through, and essentially much of the last half of the book is setting up events for future books.

It will also be interesting to see what happens with Penda, for Penda, whether he is the ‘Warrior of Woden’ or not, is going to be around for a very long time to plague and terrorise the kingdom of Bernicia.

A firm 4/5 – the series is getting better but a few issues remain.

Warrior of Woden is released on 1st April 2018 and you can get a copy here.

 

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