In my opinion, this was Harffy's big jump into epic-style historical fiction, and he pulled it off marvelously. While 'The Serpent Sword' was a fun read and set the stage for a strong case of characters, 'The Cross and the Curse' showed clear maturation in writing style and imaginative ability to place a reader effortlessly into Dark Age Britain, yet also demonstrated originality in a field where within other books there's often a strong temptation to move towards certain archetypes and one-dimensional character styles that can make the work unenjoyable. This had none of these problems, and was refreshing in the way that few sequels in a historical fiction series can be. Dialogue was raw and realistic, while various plots wove together in a manner that makes the story gripping yet enjoyably unpredictable.
In comparison with other historical fiction works I've had the pleasure to read, this was a rare spot of true originality. Harffy doesn't make his hero - the equally maturing Beobrand - into some monolithic and infallible character, but instead portrays him as a deeply troubled and imperfect man in a dark time. At times, he's courageous and brave, while in others, he seems stuck in a cycle of uncertainty and violence that he has no choice but to participate in. And wow, if there's a book that shows how chaotic and black the Dark Ages must have been, this takes the cake - the brutality, the sadness, the almost complete lack of security and safety in the midst of constant conflict is woven into the lives of Harffy's characters in a way that seems realistic yet heartbreaking all the same. There's no romanticism here that's all too common in many historical fiction works, but instead a gritty realism of men and women living in a time where little was certain, lifespans were short, violence was common, and struggle and sacrifice were everyday realities.
The Cross and the Curse is an enjoyable book by an emerging voice in historical fiction. It's got an original vision, an immersive atmosphere, and a developed cast of characters that are only becoming more well-rounded as time passes. Even better, this was a world-building book, and sets the stage for more adventures to come. Easy to recommend for those interested in historical fiction, particularly if you want to get a raw feel of what the Dark Ages must have been like.