Dark Frontier, by Matthew Harffy

4 Jul 2024

The Book

Dark Frontier
Pages: 464
Age Group: Adult
Published on 4 Jul 2024
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Available on:


A thrilling historical western set in 1890s Oregon, from the author of the critically acclaimed Bernicia Chronicles. An English soldier turned police officer escapes to the American West for a new life, but things in Oregon prove far harder than he expected.

A man can flee from everything but his own nature.

1890. Lieutenant Gabriel Stokes of the British Army left behind the horrors of war in Afghanistan for a role in the Metropolitan Police. Though he rose quickly through the ranks, the squalid violence of London's East End proved just as dark and oppressive as the battlefield.With his life falling apart, and longing for peace and meaning, Gabriel leaves the grime of London behind and heads for the wilderness and wide open spaces of the American West.

He soon realises that the wilds of Oregon are far from the idyll he has yearned for. The Blue Mountains may be beautiful, but with the frontier a complex patchwork of feuds and felonies, and ranchers as vicious as any back alley cut-throat in London, Gabriel finds himself unable to escape his past and the demons that drive him. Can he find a place for himself on the far edge of the New World?

My Review

Dark Frontier is a rather unusual western novel written by the historical fiction author Matthew Harffy (The Bernicia Chronicles, A Time for Swords), and published by Head of Zeus. A western story following an Englishman arrived in Oregon after receiving the letter of an old-time friend, just to find that life at the frontier is much more difficult than he expected; a brilliantly paced story with well-fleshed characters is the definition of Dark Frontier.

Gabriel Stokes was a soldier turned into detective in the crime-filled lands of London; the horrors he's seen filled his life with darkness and destroyed his marriage with drugs and alcohol. The invitation of an old friend from the army is the escape ticket he needs: Stokes hopes to start a new life in the American West; but when he arrives, he soon discovers that these lands are also plagued by the conflicts among ranchers. A man can flee from many things, but not from his nature.

Despite the setting goes far from the classical desert lands, Harffy effortlessly keeps many of the genre-defining elements, such as the gunslingers, the law laxity and the conflict leading towards violence, but including his own touch, blending into the mix a bit of detective plots, throwing hints that the reader can use to solve some of the subplots if they are keen to. 
If there are two characters that stand out among the cast, those are Gabriel Stokes and Jed White. Gabriel Stokes, as our main character, a man moved by the sense of justice and the desire to protect people; we can observe how he's fighting to not repeat the mistakes that destroyed his previous life. As an Englishman, he's outside of his element at his arrival in Oregon; however, drawing the parallel, things are not too different from what he experienced in London.
In many aspects, Jed White is a contradictory character; a proficient gunslinger, loyal to the family that pays him, but also a cold-blooded assassin. He will save Stokes in some situations, but still, you can't totally cheer for him. Probably is the best written character in the whole book.

The writing style with short chapters, and a fast pacing invites you to continue reading for hours; the excuse of just one more chapter. I found some scenes to be a bit chaotic, but still, quite possible to follow what was happening.

Dark Frontier is quite an interesting take on the western genre, an excellent novel that will be loved by both, newbies and veterans to the genre. I would love to see Gabriel Stokes riding again in new novels, so let's cross fingers.

The Author/s

Matthew Harffy

Matthew Harffy

Matthew Harffy is the author of action-packed, historically accurate novels. He has published nine novels in the Bernicia Chronicles series, set in seventh century Britain.

The Times called Matthew’s standalone novel, Wolf of Wessex, “a treat of a book”. His newest series, A Time for Swords, is set at the dawn of the Viking Age and follows the adventures of monk-turned-warrior, Hunlaf, who witnesses the first attack on the monastery of Lindisfarne and feels compelled to pick up a blade and organise the defence against the Norse raiders.

Before becoming a full-time writer Matthew worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator.

Matthew lives in Wiltshire, with his wife, their two daughters and a slightly mad dog.