The Wolf Sea

by Robert Low

Reviewed by David Maclaine

You might deduce something of the setting of the The Wolf Sea from its title, the inverse to that of The Whale Road, the first novel in Low’s “Oathsworn” series. In this second novel, the story centers on the eastern Mediterranean. It takes the survivors of a Viking band, bound together by a dire oath to Odin, from the streets of the medieval world’s greatest city to those of that same world’s holiest. Although some crucial early adventures take place on the sea and islands, these adventurers from the north are soon in that other “sea” where wolves roam, the dry-lands of the Near East. The narrator Orm, now leader of the troop, has lost a precious relic that holds the key to finding a great treasure trove. His pursuit of it brings his war band a new wave of bloody fights against Arabs, both pirates and organized armies, and against their Norse rivals. Soon the pursuit is complicated by the prospect of rescuing some of their men who were captured and sold into slavery. Again the long road is a costly one, the reward very likely not worth the steep price.

The Wolf Sea offers rich vistas of the tenth century as viewed through the mind of Jarl Orm, a still-young pagan warlord who must strive to fulfill his oath while increasingly aware of the crushing responsibility of command. Old friends die and new ones are made, but the survival of all remains in doubt, or as much doubt as you get from a first-person narrative. It is tale of fierce hand-to-hand fights in which mercy is rare, there are few checks on human savagery, and the most common “kindness” comes when a man must use his blade to send his mortally wounded friend into the afterlife. For all the exotic locations and culture-clashes, the novel's core is the same as that of all great war stories: the deep bond between men who stand together in the face of looming death. (2008, 339 pages)

More about The Wolf Sea at Powell's Books or The Book Depository

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

Other novels set in the Near East:

Storm of Arrows by Christian Cameron (2009), about a Greek man who allies himself with the Scyths to fight against Alexander the Great; #2 in the Tyrant series. See review or more info at Powell's Books

The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison (1931), about a Scythian woman with magical powers who must flee across the ancient world with her husband after the death of her father. More info

Last of the Amazons by Steven Pressfield (2002), based on the legend of Theseus and the Amazon queen he fights and falls in love with. See review or more info at Powell's Books

Nonfiction about wolves:

Of Wolves and Men by Barry Holstun Lopez (1978). More info

Wolves in Russia: Anxiety Throughout the Ages by Will Graves (2007). More info

Wolves of the World by Todd Fuller (2004). More info


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