Cover Image: A Time for Swords

A Time for Swords

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A new(ish) departure for Matthew Harffy, well known for his Beobrand series set in 7th-century Northumbria. We're still in the north-east, but a century later.

Hunlaf is a novice monk at the abbey on Lindisfarne. I think we can guess what's going to change his life... Harffy describes the horror of the first Viking raid with all the gor you'd expect. He's extremely good at battle scenes, never losing sight of the humans caught up in the carnage.  Hunlaf is dragged from his fascination with a mysterious book into an utterly alien experience - but finds himself inexplicably running towards danger, filled with a fury that seems to have come from nowhere.

He escapes, and driven by a longing for revenge, picks up a rag-bag group of warriors, including a Norseman with a blood feud of his own, and they forge an unlikely war band.

Hunlaf is torn between his wish to be a monk and his bloodthirsty nature. What is he? A fighter or a follower of peace and prayer?

It's an intriguing premise and it mostly works. I wasn't really engaged with some of the war band building scenes, probably because I got a bit irritated with some of the characters. But it's fast and furious and you feel as if you're in Northumbria as a terrible new reality strikes. 

This is very obviously the first of a series and I'm sure it will be a success.
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It is an event that demands to be written about, and the beginning of A Time For Swords, which recounts the attack, is thrilling. Our young hero, Hunlaf, is caught up in the attack but lives to see another day. Others are not as fortunate.

A moment in time that changed everything, and one thousand years later we are still fascinated with. The story of Lindisfarne is legendary, there aren’t many within the UK that don’t know the story. For those who don’t, it is the moment when England was invaded by the Vikings, they landed on the Northumbrian beach and raided the little monastery, it was a massacre where very few of the monks survived and that event changed everything, it started the short era of British history known as the Viking age.

There have been many books that cover the bloody moment in history when Lindisfarne was ransacked by the raiding Vikings, even if you haven’t read a lot of them you’ve most likely seen the tv show; Vikings, or like me watched many documentaries about Lindisfarne.

So, the underlining plot itself won’t be new but the difference here is we see
The date is 8th June AD793, the monks in the Monastery of Lindisfarne are ransacked by demons from across the sea, one young monk; Hunlaf somehow survives, while many of his brothers didn’t.

At its core, A Time For Swords is a simple story, but it’s executed in such a thrilling way that you are transported to the brutal and bloody time and hooked from the first page. It’s dramatic, eye-opening, meticulously researched and engrossing, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, a definite read for anyone who loves the Viking era.

Despite this being a story more or less about the Lindisfarne raid, the majority of the story takes place away from the monastery and is all about the after events and the raid. I loved the opening, it set the reader up for what’s to come and the final battle is bloody and vividly brutal – I loved it!

Overall, A Time for Swords is a thrilling page-turner that will keep you gripped.
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An interesting read about a monk turned warrior in the aftermath of the Viking raid on Lindisfarne. Its one of the longest Matthew Harffy novels I have read, but I think one of the better ones. I got a real "feel" for the period and the brutality of war, but also the personal nature of the conflicts and how they effected ordinary people. 

A spectacular new series from Harffy that I look foward to following in future through the eyes of the surviving character. 

Thanks to Head of Zeus for approving my request for this title. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are wholly my own.
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I love Matthew Harffy’s stuff, he writes hugely enjoyable historical fiction, that hits all the right notes.

With A Time For Swords, hes taken his writing up one hell of a notch. This is a very good book. Its that good in fact, that it could easily be one of the early Uhtred books by Bernard Cornwell.

In the tale of a novice monk who becomes a warrior, Harffy weaves a bloodthirsty tale of determination and revenge that had me up all night reading.

It’s a scald’s tale that should be told around the fire with mead and friends.

I hope the future brings us a lot more of Hunlaf’s tales, because I cant wait to read them.
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I started the book and found the writing to "feel of the era" and skimmed a bit then read the end and some in the middle BUT for some reason I was not compelled to read every page and thus find it difficult to give a comprehensive review of the entire book. From what I read I have a feeling this will appeal more to men or perhaps young adults though I am not sure whether or not it complies with the guidelines entirely for the YA genre. (DNF)
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It simply wasn't for me!

Thanks to the publisher and netgalley for the review copy and the best wishes for the author in his literary endeavours.
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Matthew Harrfy, really did the research on this time in history with the Vikings and the historical time that became this powerful story of a invasion and a Monk the decisions that he had to face and decide what was not good for his country but what God would want and want he could live with. Follow this fantastic story of Church,Vikings,a way of life and what to believe in. The characters are strong and so bro not to say for the description of what is happening,you so feel like you are there! If you are into Vikings,sword fighting and this way of living this is the story for you. Plan on the cliff hanger ,can you figure it out or will there be another book? Received from Net Gallery!
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A good book by a good author. I think some of his other novels are stronger than this one, but this was still an enjoyable read.
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4 stars

You can read all of my reviews at Nerd Girl Loves Books.

This is a rousing historical fiction set in northern England in AD793. On June 8, AD793 Vikings pillage the monastery on Lindisfarne, and the Viking Age has begun. While Vikings kill and rape monks and villagers as they try to run from danger, a young monk named Hunlaf runs toward danger. Despite never swinging a sword before, he takes up a weapon and kills his first man. And so begins Hunlaf's journey from monk to warrior, and his quest for vengeance.

After the Vikings leave Lindisfarne, Hunlaf is one of only a few survivors. He is tasked with communicating with a Viking that has been captured. Through a series of events, Hunlaf convinces the King that the Vikings are coming back and that the monasteries along the coast need protection. The King allows Hunlaf to raise his own warrior band, but offers no aid to do so. Despite long odds, Hunlaf gathers a rag tag group of soldiers committed to training the villagers and monks in defense of his monastery.

If you like a book with war, tactics, fighting, blood and guts set in early England, this is the one for you. The book is unevenly paced, with the first one-fourth limping slowly along. Once Hunlaf gets the go-ahead to defend his monastery, the pace begins to pick up and stays steady from there on. I really liked Hunlaf, and enjoyed seeing the relationships with his fellow soldiers develop. The author did a great job of writing about Hunlaf's path from being a pious monk and his urge, and even enjoyment, of fighting in battle. He is clearly torn and thinks himself evil for wanting to fight, but can't allow the Vikings to destroy more of his country without a fight.

The book ends on an interesting cliffhanger. I look forward to reading the next book if this is going to be a series.

Thank you to NetGalley and Head of Zeus for a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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This was my first venture into Harffy’s writing but will not be my last as I really enjoyed the writing style throughout, as the author created a very vivid, believable world woven around a real historical event. Having read a lot of Norse-focused fiction lately due to Norsevember, I had high expectations with this one and it more than lived up to them, and I particularly liked the detail and focus on a real event, and A Time of Swords was well balanced between information about the period and events and action and story. The characters were well-written too, and Hunlaf made for an excellent main character, and it was fascinating to see his growth and transformation from monk to warrior, and it was done in a very believable way, with introspection and self-doubt, and it was impossible not to be invested in his story. While the wider cast was equally well-developed with individual and unique voices, motivations and roles within this story.
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I read this for a blog tour. 

I really enjoyed this slice of history brought to life. I remember learning about Lindisfarne as a child, and being fascinated as to why the Vikings targeted a small religious community, before learning about the extreme wealth of the Church. And then I got it.

Halfur is a great protagonist - a warrior monk in a time before warrior monks (see the Crusades, William the Conqueror's axe wielding brother, Bishop Odo). He believes God wants him to take up a sword and defend people against invaders who would kill them and steal from them.

His band of fighters, literally drawn from every corner of Britain (and Ireland) are a rag tag bunch but incredibly brave and determined. Each has their own reasons for joining and their own weapons and fighting style. I liked the urbane Welsh swordsman and the female archer Wulfwaru (my tiny Grandma, from Devon, was an award winning archer in her time), the best, although Cormac the Irishman, out for revenge was actually rather sweet. 

This was an action packed book, roaming the bleak Northumberland landscape (where part of my family hailed from) and protecting the coastline from the Scandinavian raiders.

Fascinating, entertaining and vividly written, a treat for historical fiction fans, fingers crossed for more of Halfur's adventures, the things hinted at throughout the text, his memoirs, suggest tremendous adventures await.
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'𝙈𝙤𝙨𝙩 𝙢𝙚𝙣 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙗𝙤𝙧𝙣 𝙩𝙤 𝙧𝙖𝙞𝙨𝙚 𝙛𝙖𝙢𝙞𝙡𝙞𝙚𝙨, 𝙩𝙤 𝙥𝙡𝙤𝙪𝙜𝙝 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙞𝙧 𝙛𝙞𝙚𝙡𝙙𝙨, 𝙤𝙧, 𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙘𝙖𝙨𝙚 𝙤𝙛 𝙢𝙤𝙣𝙠𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙥𝙧𝙞𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙨, 𝙩𝙤 𝙥𝙧𝙖𝙮 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙨𝙥𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙙 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙬𝙤𝙧𝙙 𝙤𝙛 𝙂𝙤𝙙. 𝘽𝙪𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙚 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙨𝙤𝙢𝙚 𝙬𝙝𝙤 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙗𝙤𝙧𝙣 𝙙𝙞𝙛𝙛𝙚𝙧𝙚𝙣𝙩. 𝙒𝙝𝙚𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙨𝙚 𝙢𝙚𝙣 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙩𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙚𝙧𝙚𝙙 𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙚𝙨 𝙤𝙛 𝙗𝙖𝙩𝙩𝙡𝙚, 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙮 𝙙𝙤 𝙣𝙤𝙩 𝙗𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙠, 𝙗𝙪𝙩 𝙗𝙚𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙚 𝙨𝙝𝙖𝙧𝙥 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙝𝙖𝙧𝙙 𝙡𝙞𝙠𝙚 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙗𝙚𝙨𝙩 𝙨𝙩𝙚𝙚𝙡. 𝙄 𝙛𝙤𝙪𝙣𝙙 𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙤𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙢𝙤𝙧𝙣𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙤𝙛 𝙘𝙝𝙖𝙤𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩, 𝙙𝙚𝙨𝙥𝙞𝙩𝙚 𝙝𝙖𝙫𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙗𝙚𝙚𝙣 𝙘𝙡𝙤𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙚𝙧𝙚𝙙 𝙖𝙬𝙖𝙮 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙝𝙤𝙡𝙮 𝙢𝙚𝙣 𝙛𝙤𝙧 𝙢𝙪𝙘𝙝 𝙤𝙛 𝙢𝙮 𝙡𝙞𝙛𝙚, 𝙄 𝙬𝙖𝙨 𝙨𝙪𝙘𝙝 𝙖 𝙢𝙖𝙣. 𝙄 𝙬𝙖𝙨 𝙗𝙤𝙧𝙣 𝙩𝙤 𝙗𝙖𝙩𝙩𝙡𝙚.'

⚔️Northumbria, 793 AD. A sudden chance visit to the monastery of the Lindisfarne is going to change the life of a novice monk Hunlaf forever. When the dragon-prowed longships landed on the shores and the Norse onslaught began, Hunlaf, faced with the brutal massacre of his brothers and the pagan desecration of his church finds himself running towards the danger rather than running from it. In the face of danger, an unlikely ally, one of the heathen, Runlof saved his life. Hunlaf believes he was sent by the Christ Gods to save the kingdom, so he saved him from the King's judgment. Runlaf informed him now that the Norse knows the unguarded riches the monks have, they will surely return, of that, there is no doubt, the only question is when. Now it's upon Hunlaf to defend the monasteries from Norse invasion. He soon learns that there is a time for faith and prayer, and there is a time for swords.

⚔️The plot of the book is cleverly woven around an actual historical event of the Viking raid on the monastery of the Lindisfarne on 8th June 793AD. Narrating from the first-person-perspective of the survivor monk Hunlaf, the book transported you back to the historical Northumbria, making you feel you are watching the story unfolded with your own eyes, such was Matthew's mastery of the genre. I loved the map, names of the places, and author's note provided in the book.

⚔️Matthew's writing is smooth and flawless. I have read all his books and I just absolutely adore his writing. It seems with each book he outdone his own previous work and this book is not an exception to that. The vivid descriptions, fast pacing narratives, sound of sword-song, an unlikely hero and his inner battles, everything gradually built up the tension and leaves the reader guessing as to what’s going to happen next.

⚔️Matthew had created a bunch of unforgettable characters. I loved Hunlaf's transformation from being a monk to becoming a warrior. His self-doubt, constant introspection and warrior skills remind me of Beobrand & his friend Coenred from The Bernicia Chronicles series. Other characters like Leofstan, Hereward, Gwawrddur, Daegmun, Drosten, Cromac, Wulfwaru are also immaculately crafted and developed. Each had his own story and reason to fight that makes you instantly connect with them. 

⚔️The ending was satisfactory. There is a huge battle, swordplays, and bloodbath waiting for the reader at the end, followed by sacrifices, deaths, and revelations. It seems Matthew had planned some great adventures for Hunlaf leading him beyond the shores of Northumbria and I'll eagerly wait to read them in the future. 

Overall, I think A Time for Swords is a great beginning of another enthralling series by Matthew and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. For every historical fiction fan, this book is a must-read. HIGHLY recommended.

𝙈𝙮 𝙍𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙜: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐(5/5)
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Thank you to Jade at Aries Fiction, for sending me an ARC to review. All thoughts are my opinion only.

This is an impressive historical debut series that is sure to expand the scope of Anglo-Saxon England from the perspective of an ordinary monk. Pitting at us the very start of the Viking raids of England, you’re launched into what will become an epic journey that is epic from start to finish. The writing in this game was incredible. The first person felt ideally suited and not once, did I lose immersion in this wonderfully written book. What also helped in this immersion, was me playing Assassin Creed Valhalla, which is roughly set in the same time period (Albeit a different start date) but it brings the politics of an increasingly dismembered Anglo-Saxon England that is struggling to respond to the Viking raids, and every King or Queen is using Vikings as mercenaries to basically conquer each other. Divide and rule so to say. But there are also very good hints of The Last Kingdom, which is a fantastic TV show that focuses on Bernard Cornwell’s Uthric of Bebbanbaug. Go watch that on Netflix if you haven’t already.

I am impressed by Matthew’s structure that’s he gone here. It isn’t so much of a spoiler so to say, but we are seeing the reflections of someone that is now settled down, and wishes to tell a glorious tale that’s basically predicting the whole trilogy! We’ll be going to be fabulous enchanted deserts, the marbled columned city of Rome (or by this time, it’s really going into ruins and it’s no longer the city it was during the time of Emperor Constantine). And to the jewel of the east, the marvel of civilization against the backwater kingdoms of Medieval Europe, Constantinople itself. I am also glad that Matthew did this because, after the Norman invasion of England, many Saxons went to serve in the Byzantine’s Varangian Guard and fought against the enemies of the Byzantine Empire. Now, this isn’t 1066 as of yet, but I do imagine Saxons warriors, merchants, traders would have been traveling across Europe for all sorts of reasons. Not many, but some. That’s what really makes me excited about this trilogy.

And we’ll be fighting small-scale battles for the starting opening of this book. This has hints from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and a whole lot of Viking TV/media. Perhaps even Assassin Creed Valhalla. It’s a tale of how monks gather to fight against the most fearsome raiders of the European World of this time. The Vikings are brutal, and they want gold and loot. They realize that there’s not much to do in Norway (No grand cities, no grand administration, just squabbling chiefdoms much like the Germanic Tribes centuries ago when they bordered the Roman Empire). It is this specific reason that makes them go to England to loot riches from their monasteries. (Now imagine a novel where the Roman Empire had survived, hadn’t converted to Christianity and had instead kept its pagan religion. That would be a very interesting contrast as to how they would have dealt with the Vikings). That said, I didn’t see that many Roman Ruins as I would have wanted to see.

The characters in this novel are literally all good. I have no words but to say: I loved many of them. Leofstan, Beonna, Hunlaf, and Runolf (He’s such a great Viking! An man honorable of joining Odin’s Hall of Champions) Cormac, Gwawrddur (The epitome of a noble rogue) Drosten (I really didn’t get many scenes from him and that would have been more useful in this regard but I think he could be set up for another part in the series) Hereward (man thinks with his hear than his brain) and Wulfwaru (a clever and resourceful woman that any man would have been lucky to have as his wife!) There are a few I believe I have missed out on. But they were all great. And Hunlaf, well he’s the hero of the story. He’s basically what the precursor is to the Christian Military Orders that would take shape during the Crusades. He’s not exactly the exact precursor, but I can imagine that he’s a foreshadowing of that very essence.

A fantastic debut, with breath-taking writing and impressive worldbuilding. A 10/10 from me.


I have shared my reviews on Amazon and Waterstones, just currently awaiting their approval.
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The book opens with monk Hunlaf deciding to transcribe the story of his life rather than the religious text he was supposed to. This immediately made me warm to his character! The story draws the reader in quite quickly and maintains their attention. Hunlaf describes how he set off to Lindisfarne with Brother Leofstan (the monk equivalent of his line manager) and Harffy creates a great sense of place. I can accurately picture in my mind’s eye Hunlaf and Leofstan make the crossing to Lindisfarne; a journey I’ve made myself. On arrival the first thing they see is a forbidden text in a beautiful bejewelled cover. The story progresses well and the Norsemen arrive to plunder and pillage. Hunlaf finds himself in a quandry does he run and hide or stay and fight? As a religious man, violence does not come to him naturally and he has a humble, simple past. The title is reference to the biblical passage about there being a season for everything (Ecclesiastes); this being a time of swords, so obviously Hunlaf chooses to fight.

He has a band of brothers in arms and I enjoy both the development of Hunlaf’s character and learning more about the others. There is a good balance of action packed scenes and the more philosophical internal struggle which Hunlaf experiences. The battle scenes are quite graphic, but nothing worse than I’d watch on TV. They are very well written! There is a lot going on in battle and to capture that successfully without confusing the reader is quite a skill. I can empathise with Hunlaf’s feelings regarding God’s plan in reference to the attack by the Norsemen. Also him being out of his depth or unqualified to engage in battle; I too have felt a touch of imposter syndrome. I have a little less patience for the extent (or duration) of Hunlaf’s personal crisis; but that probably says more about me than it does the book!

This is an enjoyable read with great story and character development. It took a little while to familiarise myself with the old names for familiar places. Helpfully though there is a glossary and map at the start to refer back to. The novel works well as a stand-alone, but I believe it’s actually the start of a new series. I’m intrigued to know more about Hunlaf’s life and of some of the other characters so I will keep an eye out for the next installment.
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I'm a great fan of historical fiction. James Wilde and Bernard Cornwell being two of my favourite authors.  However, I really struggled with this book mostly because the story was so slow. I will keep it on my Kindle and finish in my own time. Because I have decided to do this, my rating on Netgalley might not necessarily reflect those I put on Goodreads and Amazon in the future..  I hate to be negative about any novel, and having seen reviews from readers who have read other books by Matthew Harffy and enjoyed them, I gather this might not be a true reflection of his story telling. However, after my experience with A Time for Swords, on this occasion I am only able to award it three stars.
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This is an amazing and exciting historical story set during the eighth century. Hunlaf a young monk from the monestary at Werceworthe has travelled with his mentor to Lindisfarne where he’s excited to see the scriptorium and all the books that the scribes are creating there. But not long after arriving there is an attack on the monestary and the people living nearby. Norse raiders attack the site, setting buildings alight and murdering, assaulting or capturing anyone they can find. Hunlaf witnesses it all from a distance, but in a moment that changes his life forever, he chooses to run towards the attack and not away from it.

I can’t believe how much I have enjoyed reading this book. I’ve never read a book by Matthew Harffy before but after this story I am keen to read more as I just really enjoyed Hunlaf’s story. The book begins with an aged monk telling of his young life and the amazing things he has seen. Deciding to write down his adventures, rather than the scriptures he is supposed to be writing, Hunlaf begins with his story of how his life as a young monk changed forever. The rest of the book follows the story of young Hunlaf as he first witnesses the terrible events at Lindisfarne and later decides to help to defend his own home and its people from another impending attack by the Norsemen.

The story is told from Hunlaf’s point of view but shows the adventure he and a few other characters go on. I like the way this story unfolds, first with Hunlaf and his mentor monk Leofstan travelling to Lindisfarne, seeing something there and the excitement Hunlaf has for learning; and later the change in him as he first grapples with his reactions to the attack, questioning God’s plan, while excited and eager to learn being more than a just a monk. I liked the way this story and adventure went with the meeting and coming together of the various different characters, including the very interesting Runolf, one of the norsemen of the raid.

The story is quite graphic in its descriptions of violence, which may shock someone not used to such writing but I loved how vivid and detailed the descriptions of the story and actions were. Occassionally with some books I find it hard to follow the action of fighting, but this was not the case with A Time for Swords, and I found myself picturing everything so clearly that I felt almost sucked into the past myself, feeling the shock, awe and gore of everything.  I like the writing in general, at first it took me some time to get used to some to some of the writing as some of the words used were more old fashioned, but my mind soon adjusted to this and it actually pulled me into the story more and I really felt like I was reading and experiencing a story from the past. The tale builds to a good ending with some secrets of some characters revealed at the end. The last scenes of the young Hunlaf, and the last pages of the story as a whole suggest the possibility of a sequel and I really hope there will be one!

There is very occassional swearing, with use of the s and f words and a few descriptions which may upset or shock more sensitive readers, including some vivid battle scenes with some gory results, but I liked the way this story went and what happens with Hunlaf and the other characters. There were some funny moments including what happened during the baptism and I liked the inclusion of Wulfwaru, and her skills in the story. I also liked the way Hunlaf’s narration shows his struggle with what is happening, it isn’t just a gory story of battle but the human story of the difficulties and struggles with such violence. For me it made Hunlaf more relatable and I enjoyed reading this story from his perspective.

The book contains a map and some author’s notes which tell you some interesting facts about how this story came about and some inspiration of real events. Overall I have really enjoyed this book and I can’t wait to read more from the author. It’s a great standalone story and hopefully there will be more exciting adventures of the young Hunlaf in the future!
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As a big fan of historical fiction, and more than a bit partial to a good battle now and again, A Time For Swords was an absolute joy!

In this first book of this new series, Matthew Harffy introduces us to young Hunlaf, who lives a contemplative life as a monk, dedicated to learning and a life of service to God. However, Hunlaf finds the course of his life taking a most unexpected turn after he takes a trip to the monastery on Lindisfarne with his teacher, and fellow monk, Leofstan - for while they are there, brutal Viking raiders from the North attack in search of treasure. 

The Viking Age has begun. The peaceful religious communities of Northumberland have caught the eyes of these Norse men, and the slaughter reigned down on the monks and villagers on Lindisfarne has whetted their appetite for more.

Hunlaf is horrified by what he has seen, puzzled by his own reaction to the bloodshed he experienced  and has somehow taken on the role as interpreter and guardian for a captive Viking raider, who goes by the name of Runolf. He has come to realise that turning the other cheek may not be the best way to protect his people from future danger and that instead now may be the time for swords....

What follows is what I would describe as Bernard Cornwell does The Magnificent Seven, as Hunlaf becomes part of a quest to find a band of protectors for his own monastery of Werceworthe, which is likely to become the next target for the raiders from the North, and it is glorious!

This is the kind of book that is full of great characters - loveable rogues, with tough exteriors and heart rending tales of their own, who band together to protect the innocent and lay their own ghosts to rest at the same time. Matthew Haffty regales us with bags of historical detail about life in Northumberland during this period, and clearly relishes describing the combative elements of the story - especially the battle scenes, which are thrilling.

There is a cracking little twist at the end of the book, which students of Viking surnames may get a little hint of before it hits you full in the face, and the hook that Matthew Harffy baits to tempt us into the next book is a corker!

I thoroughly enjoyed this tale and cannot wait for the next book, because where Hunlaf and his little band of warriors are headed next promises to be very exciting indeed.
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A Time for Swords takes place a century on from the exploits of Beobrand in the Bernicia Chronicles, transporting the reader to the time of the first Viking raids on the northeast of Britain. Our narrator is Hunlaf who, in old age, seeks to record the story of an eventful life. As he says, “I’ve seen things people wouldn’t believe. A Turkic ship on fire off the shore of Odessa. I’ve watched sunbeams glitter in the dark eyes of the Empress of Roma as we passed beneath Byzantion’s Golden Gate. I do not want all those moments to be lost in time like the winter snow when the rains of spring come.” (Is it just me or is that a subtle allusion to the ‘tears in rain’ speech by Rutger Hauer at the end of the film Bladerunner? If so, it will demonstrate the efforts of my MA English tutor to have me grasp the concept of intertextuality were not in vain.)

Hunlaf begins his story looking back to his time as a young novice at the minster of Werceworthe (modern day Warkworth in Northumberland). Despite his vocation, Hunlaf admits to being enthralled as a boy by the tales his father told him of Beobrand’s exploits against the Mercians (the subject of Fortress of Fury). As a neat in-joke, the author has Hunlaf observe, “I am sure now…that all such yarns have been embellished, for is that not the way of the storyteller, to make the tale more exciting than the simple truth?”

When he travels to Lindisfarne with his fellow monk, Brother Leofstan, Hunlaf has an unexpected reunion and, with echoes of The Name of the Rose, catches sight of a forbidden book in the monastery’s library. Both events will be significant for the future but, for the time being, are overshadowed by the arrival of three Viking warships. Murder, rape and pillage follow but, during the raid, Hunlaf discovers his instinct is to fight the attackers not flee. That action will result in the forging of an unlikely alliance and mark a change in the future path of his life. It will also leave him with long-lasting memories of the dreadful sights he witnessed.  “A warrior’s scars are many, and not all of them leave their mark on the flesh.”

Knowing the Vikings are likely to target other vulnerable sites such as Werceworthe, Hunlaf joins the search for warriors willing to help defend the community. Six eventually become a warband of seven, each with their own particular skill with sword, axe or bow. By the way, if you’re thinking seven is a significant (even a magnificent) number you’re correct, as the author explains in his afterword. Each of the seven have their own personal reasons for wanting to fight, whether that’s to test themselves against the best, to protect the weak or a desire for revenge.

Like the inhabitants of Werceworthe, the reader anxiously awaits the return of the Norsemen, hoping that the crude defensive devices they have prepared and their carefully thought-out plans will be sufficient to protect the community.  It will come as no surprise to readers of Matthew Harffy’s previous books that the action scenes are vividly described so you feel every thud of axe upon shield, hear the swift flight of arrows towards the enemy and smell the burning houses.  Will Hunlaf take up his quill to record more of his adventures? If he does, it promises to be to tell of a quest to rival John Wayne’s in The Searchers.

A Time For Swords is a skillfully crafted and compelling introduction to what seems certain to be an addictive new series for fans of historical fiction.
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Lindisfarne, AD793. The life of a novice monk will be changed forever when the Vikings attack in a new historical adventure from Matthew Harffy.
There had been portents – famine, whirlwinds, lightning from clear skies, serpents seen flying through the air. But when the raiders came, no one was prepared.
They came from the North, their dragon-prowed longships gliding out of the dawn mist as they descended on the kingdom's most sacred site.
It is 8th June AD793, and with the pillage of the monastery on Lindisfarne, the Viking Age has begun.
While his fellow monks flee before the Norse onslaught, one young novice stands his ground. He has been taught to turn the other cheek, but faced with the slaughter of his brothers and the pagan desecration of his church, forgiveness is impossible.
Hunlaf soon learns that there is a time for faith and prayer... and there is a time for swords.
A riveting tale of coming to grips with life altering changes. A life of contemplation and learning suddenly rendered moot with the thrust of a seax. In yet another startling story of the brutal 8th century, the author has given this new cast of characters the same diligent attention to detail and development. An amalgamation of unlikely allies bonding together; an emotionally charged internal battle as Hunlaf moves farther from his life as a monk and closer to becoming a warrior, a storyline that leaves the reader guessing as to what's going to happen next. And extra points for getting in a mention of Beobrand. 😊 And even more extra points because this tale is just a beginning. 5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
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It is always a worry when one of your favourite authors starts a new series – for author and reader, alike – that you may not like it, that the new hero doesn’t live up to the promise of the last hero – or even that the new hero is too similar to the last and the book appears formulaic.

Well, with Matthew Harffy, you needn’t worry about that. He seems to be able to create distinct characters and storylines at the drop of a hat. To be fair to Matthew, I am sure that it is not that easy – though he does make it look so! With Wolf of Wessex, his first foray away from the heroic Beobrand, Matthew Harffy proved his ability at storytelling did not just lay in one direction, and that he did have so much more in his repertoire.

With A Time for Swords, he has done it again!

Recreating the world of 8th century Northumbria, Matthew Harffy has left the 7th century behind to document the arrival of the Vikings on Britain’s shores, with the raid on Lindisfarne – Holy Island. A Time for Swords takes this raid as its starting point and pursues the likely reactions on the people of Northumbria following this unexpected explosion of violence on the peaceful island monastery. As we have come to expect from Matthew Harffy, the action starts on the very first page and doesn’t let the reader stop for breath until the very last.

The lead character, Hunlaf, is a monk who has discovered a skill with the sword, and who wants nothing more than to protect his brethren at the monastery at Werceworthe (Warkworth) from the attack that he knows is coming. The intrepid warrior monk manages to attract a small but fierce group of fighters to his cause, including Runolf, a Viking left behind in the raid on Lindisfarne, who has his own motives for confronting the Norse raiders.

Hunlaf is a likeable character, torn between his love of the church and the draw of the sword and the comradeship of warriors. He is a young, gifted fighter with an eagerness to learn and a desire to protect that means he will find it hard to back down from a fight. Each of the characters surrounding Hunlaf have their own stories and reasons for joining the fight, from the monk, Leofstan, with a warrior past of his own, to Runolf the Norseman fighting his own kind, to a Welshman always in need of proving himself and a young, fiery Irishman, Cormac, seeking vengeance for the fate of his family.

The storyline of A Time for Swords draws the reader in from the outset, taking you on a journey from the ruined Lindisfarne to York and on to the monastery at Warkworth. Matthew Harffy demonstrates his knowledge of the area, the people and the landscape, in Hunlaf’s travels. Harffy skillfully combines impeccable historical research with his wonderful storytelling, to create a novel that has a sense of authenticity about it. While the raid on Lindisfarne is historical fact, the subsequent events that young Hunlaf gets involved in are a creation of the author. However, Matthew Harffy supplements the fictional fighting by using the original landscape, the weapons used, fighting tactics and the very real threat of the Viking raiders, to add a sense of realism,

As you may have come to expect with Matthew Harffy, the fight scenes are where he is in his element. Beautifully choreographed, they are frenetic and vividly described with a passion unique to the author. and there is no guarantee that your favourite character will survive…

In short, A Time for Swords is one of those books which is not to be missed. Entertaining, exciting and totally gripping, the novel reaffirms, once more – if more affirmation is needed – Matthew Harffy’s status as one of the best authors of historical fiction around.

Read it – I promise, you will not be disappointed!
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