The Whale Road

by Robert Low

Reviewed by David Maclaine

The Whale Road takes its name from my favorite of the Old Norse kennings, the stock of metaphors the skalds (poets) used to weave their elaborate verse. The “road” of the title is the sea. Orm, the novel’s teenaged narrator, soon finds himself riding those waves as part of a longship crew led by his father’s lord, and sworn to brotherhood by an oath to Odin. After a raid on the western shore of Britain, their journey takes them back to ports in Norway and Sweden. They discover that the object they retrieved on their raid is linked to both a Christian relic and the most famous treasure trove in Nordic legend. Before long the crewmen find themselves pursued by relentless enemies and entangled in dark secrets shrouded in the supernatural. Their path takes them deep into the earth and then far across its surface, after they reach the world of the Slavo-Scandinavian Rus, whose emerging realm stretches along the lakes and rivers linking the Baltic and Black Seas. Soon their destiny has drawn them across the great steppes in the army of Sviatoslav, Prince of Kiev, while they maneuver to evade the plots of their rivals and uncover the lost silver hoard of Attila.

With this gripping novel of action and destiny Robert Low kicks off his Oathsworn series, which Harry Sidebottom calls the best of the Viking novels. The Whale Road demonstrates Low's mastery of the physical, cultural and psychological world of the tenth-century Scandinavian sea-raiders, and his equally impressive ability to tell a story. It is a dark, bloody tale, full of violent death. Low offers no sentimental evasions; the companions we follow on this journey will rape or enslave the victims they do not simply butcher. But their long, bloody trail leads us deep into a place where history intersects the most famous events in Norse literature. It's not to be missed by anyone who knows those tales of vengeance and dragon hoards. (2007, 340 pages)

More about The Whale Road at Powell's Books or The Book Depository

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

Other novels about Viking raiders:

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

The Viking by Edison Marshall (1951), an adventure story; the 1958 movie "The Vikings" starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis was based on this novel. 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