The Prow Beast

by Robert Low

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

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

Other novels about Viking raiders:

The Whale Road by Robert Low (2007), #1 in the Oathsworn series. See review or more info at Powell's Books

The Long Ships by Frans Gunnar Bengtsson (Swedish edition in two volumes 1941 and 1945; English translation in one volume 1954; the first volume published singly in English as Red Orm in 1943), a humorous adventure novel about tenth-century Viking raiders. More info

Blood Eye by Giles Kristian (2009), about a carpenter's apprentice taken prisoner by Viking warriors, who comes to enjoy their life of adventure and savagery; #1 in the Raven series. More info

Nonfiction about Vikings:

The Vikings: A History by Robert Ferguson (2009). More info

The World of the Vikings by Richard Hall (2007). More info

A History of the Vikings by Gwyn Jones (2nd edition, 1984). More info

At the Movies:

The Long Ships, the over-the-top 1964 Viking adventure movie directed by Jack Cardiff and starring Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier.


Vikings at the BBC History website

Back to Medieval Scandinavia and the Vikings

Back to Directory of Book Reviews

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