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Kin of Cain Paperback – March 1, 2017
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- Publisher : Aria (March 1, 2017)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 108 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1784978868
- ISBN-13 : 978-1784978860
- Item Weight : 5.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.08 x 0.25 x 7.8 inches
Best Sellers Rank:
#1,240,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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Kin of CainHowever this particular book is quite a different prospect, for there is real depth to it. I very much liked the way in which Harffy slowly but surely builds up an immersive and evocative aura of dread around the mission, largely due to his immersive and evocative descriptions. He also gets the balance between archaic and other words just right, which is testament to the painstaking care which he must have employed when putting this book together.
The different personalities of each member of the band are deftly drawn out with each page turned, which is a skilful accomplishment when you consider that a novella does not benefit from the length of a full-scale novel. Harffy has little time and space in which to make his magic work, yet he pulls it all off so well. Fans of the warrior Beobrand, who is the hero of Harffy’s popular Bernicia Chronicles, should note that the protagonist of Kin of Cain is Beobrand’s older brother Octa. Readers who – like me – have not yet read any of Harffy’s acclaimed Bernicia Chronicles, can rest assured that this novella makes for a great standalone read that is easy to follow, even if we have not yet been introduced to Beobrand’s adventures.
I could not but sympathise with Octa’s desire to do the right thing by the people of Northumberland, by tracking down a creature which only appears more invincible and terrifying as the story progresses. Octa’s recollections of the violence he suffered at the hands of his tyrannical father only make his altruistic and courageous intentions to rid the land of the beast more admirable. The band’s leader Bassus has a quiet formidable quality about him, also projecting a seasoned sturdiness which is good foil for Octa’s more emotional reactions.
I particularly liked the way in which Harffy describes the marshes through which the party must travel in search of the beast, which is but one of the tricky terrains in which Octa and his companions must track down and tackle the intimidating, mysterious creature. All throughout the author cleverly skirts the edge of the realms of both fantasy and horror, sometimes even stepping into them without entirely straying from the story’s historical fiction genre.
The fighting scenes, when they do happen, are not hardboiled or too sparing, so that the warriors’ manful efforts to find and restrain their dangerous prey are rendered all the more plausible. I found the story’s denouement highly satisfying, particularly given the shrewd way in which the author ultimately linked the story to a famous Old English epic poem. It’s a tough ask to end a novella satisfactorily but Harffy also pulled this off with admirable proficiency.
So all in all this was a 5/5 read for me. I’ve heard a lot about Matthew Harffy, and now I know why. Do pick up this read if you’d like to experience the writing abilities of a talented, fast-rising star on the historical fiction circuit.
But… I wanted to know what the hype was all about. I’d seen his name pop up within the same social media circles, and decided to give Serpent Sword a try. And to say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement.
I have already reviewed the main novels in the Bernicia Chronicles here and here, so I won’t reiterate why I love the series. To summarize for purposes of this review however, I will say that the key to my love is the in main protagonist of these tales, Beobrand. I love that Beobrand is a hero, but he is also an imperfect hero. He has a darkness lurking somewhere inside him, and it’s this darkness which propels and motivates him throughout the plot of each book. He has strengths and weaknesses, just like a real person, and he wrestles with them, second guessing decisions, dealing with past hurts and loves. He may be a character in a story set over a thousand years ago, but in this, he is just like any modern human alive on the planet today.
Kin of Cain takes a step back in time from the novels in The Bernicia Chronicles. It is a book set in the Bernicia Chronicles “universe”, but it is a sort of prequel in novella form. Readers of The Serpent Sword will immediately remember Beobrand’s brother Octa. The death of Octa (only referred to in that book and not covered in Kin of Cain) forces Beobrand into motion, setting off the series. Kin of Cain takes a look at one figurative chapter in Octa’s life, before we ever meet Beobrand, chronologically speaking.
The novella is a wonderful story, something I’d expect from Harffy in the style and telling of it. The pace is good, and the characters are familiar. I don’t read thriller/horror fiction, so I am probably not doing the genre or this novella justice by using a comparison, but I will. Because the main action of the story is set at night, in a misty, swirling swamp, and the antagonist of the story commits grisly atrocities, the novella feels like a thriller to me. Hound of the Baskervilles, anyone? — minus Sherlock Holmes and inserting Dark Age warriors carrying swords and other sharp bits of steel, of course. It was creepy, but the horror is suggested and happens off the page, making it more thriller than horror.
The only down side to the novella, which really isn’t saying much, is Octa. Don’t get me wrong: I like the guy. But because this is a novella, I felt that we didn’t really get a chance to know him very well. Several times he echoes regret at leaving his mother and little brother at the mercies of his brutal father, Grimgundi, as he goes off on the king’s service, but beyond those reveries we don’t see much of the inner Octa. I don’t fault the novella for this. It’s a novella. There isn’t a lot of literary real estate for such luxuries. I have just been spoiled by the superb development of Beobrand over the course of several novels.
The novella ends with one little surprise for lovers of classic literature. I won’t spoil it for those who have yet to read the book. But this one is a delight, and I have to chide myself for not catching on a little sooner to what Harffy was doing over the entire course of the novella. Especially when you consider the fact that I remember, in retrospect, his social media posts about the fact that he was going to do it!
I recommend Kin of Cain to fans of The Bernicia Chronicles, but because the story is set independently outside the series, it works very well as a stand-alone. For this reason, I also recommend the novella to those who think they might enjoy Harffy’s writing but don’t know if they want to commit to a feature-length book.
Exciting and fast moving, this is a prequel of sorts and features Octa, elder brother of the hero of the Bernica books. Also appearing is the sword Hruntung and it's original owner. Enjoy reading this addition to the Benicia novels.
Top reviews from other countries
A blood-curdling cry in the darkest of nights. Lifestock slaughtered. Good men dead. This cannot continue. King Edwin will not allow such a monster to remain at large. He must be hunted. He must be killed.
On a cold winters day, King Edwin's favoured thanes set out on a quest to find and kill the beast that has brought such terror to their King's beautiful kingdom. But this will be an adventure like none before it. And all their lives will be changed forever...
As poetic and as exciting as the Old English epic poems of times gone by, Kin of Cain: A Short Bernicia Tale by Matthew Harffy really appealed to me. The story is an action-packed adventure where new horrors (both real and imagined) lurk around every corner. The characters, particular Octa are fresh and vibrant — very real in the telling. Octa was a perfect protagonist. He is strong but weak. Brave but fearful. Very human. I thought he was wonderfully portrayed.
For those of you who love the old epic poems, this story will be very familiar to you. I am not going to give away any spoilers, but very early on in the story, I cottoned on to what Mr Harffy was writing about. I have to admit, the story he depicted is one of my favourites!!
Mr Harffy has written a fresh take on a very old story. It was a very satisfying retelling with a few little twists of his own.
I thoroughly enjoyed Kin of Cain: A Short Bernicia Tale and I shall look forward to reading more books in the Benicia Tale saga.
630 AD and terror and winter grip the lands of Bernicia, the northernmost kingdom in the lands of the Englefolk. A monster stalks the hills, livestock and men have been found torn asunder, their bones gnawed, their flesh gorged upon. King Edwin sends his champions, Bassus and Octa, with a band of trusted men to rid the kingdom of this evil. As Bassus leads this brave war band into the northern hills, they soon question whether they are the prey or the hunted, but whatever the darkness brings it will sow the seeds of a tale that will echo down through the ages.
I enjoy a good scary story, or movie, I’m one of those people who prefer the ghost ride to the wheel at the fair, however, it would never occur to me read a tale that was both historical and horror. I really enjoyed this atmospheric ride, and I could feel the tension as though I were with the characters in the marsh.
There is little to criticise in this book, it is well written, and the characters are likeable. In Kin of Cain Harffy takes the strands of an ancient story and creates a believable plot, that, although wildly imaginative, could easily be interpreted as belonging to the supernatural, especially to a people whose everyday lives were governed by superstition. And when you read the last few pages, you think, “Wow,” that’s a clever way of linking it to the one of the most popular tales that ever came out of the Anglo-Saxon period.
I’ve not been to the northernmost parts of England where the lands of Bernicia used to lie within the boundary of Northumberland, stretching itself beyond the Hadrian’s Wall and into what is now Scotland. But it’s easy to imagine dark brooding hills, swathes of land called moors, and marshes where only the remotest scatterings of steadings dwelt. At night, you can think of wolves howling as they bay at the moon, trees clouded in mist, standing like sentinels to guide a traveller’s way across the moorlands, and in the marshes the sound of the reeds rustling as creatures make their way about their nightly business. All these wild imaginative elements add to the mysteries of this shadowy land. But despite the eeriness, one cannot help but think there is beauty in the darkness, even at night, with all its terrors.
The story of Beowulf is commonly known as the brave warrior and his fellow thegns, who come to kill the monster. In this version, Mr Harffy has created the setting in Northern England, which has a similar type of setting to that mentioned in the tale – and is where his Bernicia chronicles are set. Of course there are differences between the real version and his, but the presentation is atmospheric, sinister, tense and darkly weird. Descriptive prose, his strength, is how he hooks the reader:
They trudged onwards towards the smoke that must have risen from a hearth fire. The
promise of warmth and shelter, and perhaps fresh ale, drove them forward until the light
became too faint for them to make out where they were going.
The marsh was redolent of decay; dark and hidden scents, as of death. The warriors’ feet
and the hooves of the horses churned the quagmire. Stagnant pools bubbled at their passing.
All around the swamp sighed and whispered like a living thing.
Had I read the quote above as a blurb, there would be nothing to stop me from wanting to read this book.
Octa, one of the main characters, is the brother of the hero of Harffy’s Bernicia books, Beobrand. The latter does not appear in the tale of Kin of Cain, and Octa has but a cameo appearance in the first of the chronicles, The Serpent Sword, which Beobrand stars in. But that small part Octa plays was enough to tickle the taste for more of him. References to him are interesting, intriguing even, and I think a lot of people are glad that Octa has a story for himself.
Because this is a novella, we do not get to know Octa as well as we later come to know his brother and his friend, Bassus, but there is definitely a hero in the making. Sadly, his career was ended before it barely started, but I am hoping that we can see more of him, and what he might have been had he lived longer, in more of these short novels – or even possibly a whole novel devoted to him, and Bassus.
What I enjoyed most about this book was the way the author creates the right environment for my mind to easily conjure the visuals. I could hear, see, and smell the entire stage, from the rolling waves on the beach below the cliff, to the wind driven, plaintive cries of seagulls flying overhead. The dark sky, with its patches of blue and cloud, the aroma of the decaying pieces of flesh that the brave warriors walk unknowingly amongst in the night on their search for the monster, are as unforgettable as waking up and getting out of bed for work in the morning. If this is the type of style you like to read, a style that sucks you into the book and places you firmly within it, then this book is for you, and possibly starts a whole new genre of Anglo-Saxon horror.
I think that the author would enjoy greater success if he were to continue to write more of these types of stories and more about Octa, but who am I to say what he should write, for whatever he does, I think he will do it well, and having read the other stories in his chronicles, he is a master story-teller.
Normally I dislike novellas or short stories, simply because they are too short and although there was no more that could be added to this story I still; wanted more.
This story is a prequel to Harffy's magnificent Bernician Chronicles and tells not of Beobrand - our hero in the full length novels - but his brother Octa. A terrible monster stalks animals and humans alike and Octa and his friend Bassus are among the men sent to find the creature and kill it. readers will no doubt recognise the inspiration for this tale, but no matter,. for it is well told and totally gripping.
An absolute must for lovers of this genre ....
Kin of Cain is a novella (86 pages). It is a gobbet of flesh tossed by the author to keep his readers quiet. It is a prequel to the main series, set several years earlier. Beobrand's elder brother Octa, is new to the household of King Edwin and desperate to prove himself.
As usual with this author, it is straight into the action. A cheerful winter's night in the mead hall is interrupted by a scream. It is a simple tale, one of the oldest. An invincible monster roams the land. The king sends his best warriors to destroy it. Octa is pleased to be chosen as one of them, he soon changes his mind. The trail takes them through a mysterious, mist covered marsh, to towering cliffs and thundering seas. Will they catch the monster? Is it an animal, or something else. Can it be killed? Who will die and who survive?
The only fault, for me, is the use of the term "slaughter-dew", an Old English kenning. It suggests a bath oil for shield maidens. But with so much blood spilt, another word is definitely needed. It sprinkles on the ground, it drips from torn flesh and smears the blades of weapons.
I loved the twist at the end, where connections are made and loose ends tied.
This is a great book, to be consumed on a winter's evening in your favourite chair, perhaps with a glass of red. A distraction from the never-ending news of pontificating politicians.
Better still, huddle close to the hearth in your lord's hall. Sip your mead as the scop recites this song of heroes.
But beware. What is that screaming, out in the winter darkness?
I particularly liked the ending line, very clever!