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Carpe Librum

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Historical Novel Society

The Cross and the Curse by Matthew Harffy (Bernicia Chronicles #2)

The Cross and the Curse - Matthew Harffy

If you've read my review of The Serpent Sword, you already know that I went into reading the second installment of Matthew Harffy's Bernicia Chronicles as a fan. I therefore jumped at the chance to get my hands on an ARC rather than have to wait for the January 2016 release date. Many thanks to the author for providing this in return for an honest review.

Those eagerly awaiting the continuation of Beobrand's story will not be disappointed. Matching the first book's pace and gruesome realism of the 7th century, the second novel also adds more complex layers of personality and relationships.

Harffy cleverly sets the stage for upcoming drama from the very first scene. Beobrand and Sunniva have grown closer, but their future is uncertain in the land being torn apart by warrior kings. Beobrand must learn to meet King Oswald's demands for his service, convince the men he leads that he deserves the position of ruling over them, and be the husband that he longs to be to Sunniva. Challenges to these noble goals abound, not the least of which is the long shadow of Hengist, the antagonist of the first book.

One of Beobrand's greatest struggles stems from his childhood with an abusive father. The skill in warfare that continues to gain him glory and position requires that he nurture, to some extent, his violent side. However, he feels his failure sharply when this ferocity is impetuously aimed at those who love him most.

It is not only the relationship with Sunniva that is developed more deeply. Beobrand has his men, neighbors, king, and other warriors to manage if he is going to be a successful and respected leader. The author does a magnificent job of putting the reader inside the main character's head, sharing in both defeats and victories. Details like Beobrand's lack of concern for the names of his men's children make him leap off the page as a real person with strengths and weaknesses each reader can relate to.

Without giving too much away, I will just say that more than one event takes place that left my heart twisting with Beobrand's pain, frustration, and the decisions he was forced to make. It was as if I was watching a good friend going through this dark ages drama.

Other characters are just as well done. The reader is able to feel Sunniva's vulnerability when Beobrand is gone, Coenred's struggles with the faith he is devoted to, and Acennan's loyalty and frustration with the former enemy who is now his closest friend. Of course, there are also some new characters that season the plot even more. The entire story becomes deeper and more complex with enough left unknown at the end that I now eagerly await the third book.

Highly recommended to anyone who enjoyed the first book in the Bernicia Chronicles.