Reviewed by David Maclaine
The Prow Beast, fourth in the "Oathsworn" series, begins with a fiery defeat at sea, and life lurches downhill for Low's characters from there. Not so for the reader, because Low again draws us deep into the fascinating mental world of his tenth-century Viking band of brothers. The narrator, Jarl Orm, soon leads his troop across challenging new landscapes on yet another seemingly hopeless mission. You could call it Saving Fostri Koll - "fostri" has the same root as “foster,” and the youth named Koll, the son of Orm’s kidnapped lord, has been entrusted to Orm to raise. Koll is only one target of the foes who kidnapped his father; others must be protected or rescued during the course of the novel. As always, Orm’s world is full of brutal adversaries. In the struggle against them, his blood-soaked crew shows itself to be just as hard and ruthless. As in the earlier books of Low’s splendid "Oathsworn" series, readers must say tearful goodbyes to some beloved companions as the Lord of Battles to whom the warriors are sworn exacts his harsh tribute.
Where the first three novels took us twice to the eastern realms of the Rus, and once to the eastern Mediterranean, The Prow Beast leads its crew into closer, but scarcely less daunting terrain. This time they must fight their way upstream on the Oder, the boundary between Germans and Slavs which links the watery world of the Baltic Norse with the Magyar horsemen on the plains of what is now Hungary. Figures from history swirl around the story, including a rebellious Swedish prince named Styrborn, a precocious twelve-year-old Norwegian prince nicknamed Crowbone, and a young, pregnant queen named Sigrith whose life-line will tangle fatefully with his. There are, perhaps, a shade fewer pitched battles in this book than in earlier volumes, but murder, torture, pestilence and other assorted mayhem make the tale as grim and gripping as ever. (2010, 358 pages)More about The Prow Beast at Powell's Books or The Book Depository