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