by Robert Low

Reviewed by David Maclaine

Crowbone, fifth in the "Oathsworn" series, takes its anti-heroes westward to the Irish Sea for the first time. Also for the first time since the opening novel of the series, the story is not narrated by Jarl Orm the Bearslayer. In this novel, the third-person viewpoint shifts as an assortment of groups vie for control of another precious object, all of them set in motion by an old enemy of the brotherhood. This time the main mission is entrusted to Olaf Trygvesson, that scion of Norwegian royalty who goes by the name Crowbone. He’s in his late teens now and as determined as ever to claim the throne of Norway and wreak vengeance on his enemies, not necessarily in that order. But he’s put to his sternest test yet with an independent command that must navigate waters swirling with treachery when they’re not wracked by deadly storms. Along the way his bloody path crosses that of several major players in history, including the king of Norse Dublin, Olaf Cuaran; and the high king of Ireland, Mael Sechnaill; not to mention Gormflaeth, the remarkable woman who would spend time as wife of both. In the center of the plot is another famous tenth-century woman, Gunnhild, known to saga as the Kingsmother. To Crowbone she is the Witch-Queen, his mortal enemy when he was still in the womb. Her last surviving son, Gudrod, is young Olaf’s chief rival for the Norwegian throne.

As ever, Low’s tale is as grim and blood-spattered as a Cormac McCarthy novel, and the islands fringing the Scottish coast are no country for old men, or old women. It takes the reader from stormy shipwreck to pitched battle, all with a feel of vivid reality.  Low’s writing continues to impress with its richness and power. His story-telling remains uncompromising in its treatment of the harsh, violent lives of men who earn their fame and fortune with blows of a battle ax. (2012, 432 pages)

More about Crowbone at

Crowbone appears on the list of The 45 Best Historical Novels Set in the Viking Age

Other novels set in the time of Gormflaith:

The Book of Kells by R.A. MacAvoy (1984), about a man and a woman who slip back in time to Ireland in the time of Gormflaith. More info

The Kings in Winter by Cecelia Holland (1967), about the defense of Ireland by Brian Boru's army against Viking invaders at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. More info

Lion of Ireland by Morgan Llywelyn (1980), about the high king of Ireland Brian Boru. More info

Nonfiction about Viking invasions of Ireland:

The Vikings in Ireland by Morgan Llywelyn (1997). More info

The Vikings in Ireland: Settlement, Trade and Urbanization by Mary A. Valante (2008). More info

The Viking Age: Ireland and the West edited John Sheehan et al. (2010). More info


Gormflaith at the Library Ireland website

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