The Cross & The Curse is the second instalment of Bernicia Chronicles written by Matthew Harffy. This would also be a re-read for me since I’ve already forgotten what happened after the people of Gefrin found refuge behind the walls of the mighty Bebbanburg Castle.
In just a short time, Beobrand already pledged allegiance to two kings, Edwin and Eanfrith, and both are now dead. In The Cross & The Curse, Beobrand met his third king, Oswald. Having studied English history, Oswald is one of my favourite monarchs—do not ask me why. Reading his biography years ago, I thought he was a nice and decent ruler.
Oswald was the brother of Eanfrith. I also forgot that Edwin was not of the bloodline of Aethelric (d. 572), the son of Ida of Bernicia. Edwin was only a brother of Acha of Deira, who married Aethelfrith, father of Eanfrith & Oswald. In The Cross & The Curse, We will likely continue to confront Cadwallon and Penda and their armies. Also, following the historical chronology, the biggest battle scheduled should be the Battle of Heavenfield. This may explain why the book is named The Cross & The Curse.
The book opens with a busy Bebbanburg in preparation for the Heavenfield battle. Several chapters in as history recorded, Oswald won the battle, and so much of that is true. Again, I admire the idea of inserting the character of Beobrand, a mere warrior at this point in the story, as the one who drives the winning chance is rather smart. In all honesty, we wouldn’t honestly know how Oswald actually won the war, but against all odds, he did. Imagining a person such as Beobrand in it made the battle look alive and vivid to my 21st-century eyes.
Immersing myself in the story, I think I’m biased towards the Bernician side. Maybe it stems from my curiosity about the Bernicians as well that I wanted them to always win the battle. The hardest thing about reading historical fiction such as The Cross & The Curse is to be fully aware that the outcome had been set in stone, written in manuscripts, and told as stories over many generations.
In the historical fiction genre, it is entirely up to the author to keep me, a reader, engaged to follow through with the story and read of the imagined events in between. In this case, Matthew Harffy succeeded greatly.
The described events of Cadwallon’s death gave me goosebumps. It was gruesome, raw, and gore, yet calm and solemn. Now I wonder how other historical fiction from Cadwallon’s point of view would depict this moment. Then I should find some new books about early medieval Wales.
Chapter 7 of The Cross & The Curse celebrates the victory of the Battle of Heavenfield. King Oswald kindly showered Beobrand with various gifts, including the land of Ubbanford (modern Norham). Look at this guy, Beobrand. Last year he was only a short-fused little rascal from Cantware (Kent), a nobody without armour or riches. Only by the second book he has it all: treasure, status, fame, a woman he loves, and a land to call his own. Talk about the story arc…
Halfway through The Cross & The Curse, we meet with Nelda, Hengist’s mother. I forgot to mention it before that Hengist was an enormous stone in Beobrand’s shoes. Nelda is a witch and harbours hatred for everything around her, especially after she meets face-to-face with Beobrand.
The Cross & The Curse had a different flow and vibe from the first book. It’s still an unputdownable book, but it poked my emotions a bit too deep; it hurts.
The Cross & The Curse had a different flow and vibe from the first book. It’s still an unputdownable book, but it poked my emotions a bit too deep; it hurts. As I finished this book, it was indeed an emotional rollercoaster. I couldn’t remember when I could breathe and slow down reading this. Or, when I thought it was a slow-paced chapter, like when Beobrand finally got back to Ubbanford, I was sorely mistaken.
The book even took away the other half of my brain, I didn’t even stop and note down new words I learnt along the way. I didn’t even spend much time noting the historical facts scattered through out The Cross & The Curse. But I digress.
Now I have to learn not to get attached to any of the characters because it seems like Matthew Harffy is going the Ken Follett way when dealing with the fates of his characters. I only have one wish: please do not kill Acennan, Bassus, or Attor.
It’s time to continue with the third book to see if my favourite characters survive.
Have you read this book? Do you like it? Connect with me and share your thoughts about it.
1. Bede, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, ed. and tr. Colgrave, Bertram; Mynors, Roger AB.1969. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-1982-2202-5.
2. Yorke, Barbara. 2002. Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England. Routledge: London & New York.