The Whale Road

Written by Robert Low
Review by Bill Dodds

This is Robert Low’s first part of a Viking trilogy, and his first novel. Robert Low has been a writer and journalist since the age of seventeen. The Whale Road has sprung from a lifetime’s interest in ancient warfare and recent involvement in Viking re-enactment.

The novel is set towards the end of the Vikings’ raiding days in 965 AD. A crew of oath-sworn warriors continues to raid, owing loyalty only to themselves and any master who will pay them. All around them ambitious rulers are founding great realms in Scandinavia andRussia, and want loyal subjects, not lawless warriors. Most of the oath-sworn remain pagans, but Christianity is victorious, offering the rulers of the new realms a religion more suited to a settled way of life and sanctified kingship.

         The Whale Road is the story of Orm the Bearslayer, who joins the oath-sworn to escape a blood feud. The crew of the Fjord Elk are hired as relic hunters and sent to find a legendary sword. Guided by Hild, a weird young woman, they follow the dangerous “whale road”, looting towns, fighting amongst themselves, besieging a great city and dragged towards the tomb of Attila the Hun.

I had misgiving about reviewing this novel. I’d read Henry Treece’s Viking saga as a boy, and Bernard Cornwell has covered the territory. However, it is a gripping saga, a mysterious evocation of the death of the Viking age, and a sympathetic tale of the growth of Orm from an untried youth to a successful warrior. “All sagas are snake knots,” says Robert Low. The Whale Road is a knot which is well worth unravelling.

Bill Dodds