Review: A Time for Swords by Matthew Harffy


Lindisfarne, AD793.

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 AD 793, 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.

My Review

This is a must read! Hunlaf, our protagonist, is a monk who witnesses the terrible slaughter at Lindisfarne. And he did more than witness: he actually killed a Norseman in defense of the monastery, surprising himself at the ease with which he performed the deed. The emotional ease, that is. What kind of monk finds a warrior within himself? And so begins the struggle which transforms Hunlaf from one to the other. He joins a tiny group of fighters sworn to defend his own monastery against the expected next wave of attacks, predicted by a Norse giant left behind when the Norsemen finished ransacking their first target. Reminiscent of “The Seven Samurai”, our little band must train the locals—and the monks—to defend their own home. Our hero had to prove himself to the others while he fought his own conscience:

“I am one of this band of warriors,” I said, more forcefully. He fixed me in his stare.
“You wear the habit of a monk and the sword of a warrior. You cannot be both, I fear, Hunlaf.”
I had been thinking much on this and knew he was right. “I am a warrior in the clothes of a monk,” I said, feeling a weight lifted from me as I spoke the words.
Hereward held my gaze for a time, before nodding. “Very well,” he said. “Warrior it is.”

Since this story is written in first person as an old man (and reformed monk) looking back on his life, we know Hunlaf is going to become a great warrior—in future books, of course. This story is very satisfying and Hunlaf’s emotional roller-coaster gives depth to his character. There’s plenty of action in Harffy’s distinctive style, and we are certainly left wanting more.

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