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Monday, December 31, 2007

The Whale Road

Low, Robert. The Whale Road. Orm "the Bear Slayer" has little choice when at 15, still recovering from the mauling by a Polar bear that gives him his name and his reputation, he joins his father in a band of oath-sworn Vikings under the leadership of Einar the Black.

Low combines some harsh and graphic historic reality with Norse mythology and legend in this adventure that involves Attila the Hun's lost treasure. The characters are well-drawn, and Low does much to unite historic accuracy with narrative.

One of the first complications is that Orm's slaying of the bear was not quite what it seemed, but when he is discovered unconscious, covered in blood and seriously wounded, assumptions are made, and when Orm finally regains consciousness, though feeling guilty, he decides it is best to leave the story alone. He earns the rest of his reputation himself as he struggles to survive in the savage life that claims him.

The story is told by Orm, as an old man looking back at events, but the elder Orm's narrative voice intrudes rarely.

The year is 965 and the Viking era is coming to an end, but those who have worshiped the Norse Gods and have lived the adventurous life as raiders find it difficult to give up. Nor would they easily find another place in society. Adventure, yes, but a grim, distasteful, brutal life that involves eating what is available, enduring the cold and the wet, suffering illness and wounds that can make one worthless to oath-sworn. Low paints a vivid picture of this band turned mercenary and who take awful risks following a mad girl in hopes of discovering the treasure of Attila.

I chose this books for the title which is a kenning and having taught Beowulf for a number of years, I've long been fascinated with the historic period that used to be called the "dark ages"-- in literature and in history. I'm not sure women would enjoy this book as much as men, a comment I don't remember ever making before. I enjoyed it, although I found some parts in the second half a bit fantastic. Still -- the weaving of fact, legend, and Norse mythology make it acceptable because, as I mentioned, the story is told by Orm, who would have been intimately acquainted with the vagaries of the gods.

This is Low's debut novel and the first in a trilogy, so I will be able to follow the further adventures of Orm Rurrikson.

Fiction. Historical. 2007. 338 pages.


  1. The comment about women not enjoying this as much as men is fair - even if one of the main characters is, in fact, a woman. Also, bear in mind that this is the young Orm, 15, a hormone on legs. Like most males of his age, women are only good for two things and he can't actually remember the second. Try Book 2, when he is growing up and finding love and responsibility. Better still, try Book 3, when women are essential members of the crew.

    But thanks for the kind words, all the same.

    Robert Low

  2. Mr. Low -- Strangely, the fact that Orm is 15 and as you say, "a hormone on legs" wasn't why I thought women would be less drawn to the book. Actually, Orm has a remarkable sensibility despite being 15 and having the typical sexual appetite of an adolescent male. Orm is always out of kilter with the culture in which he finds himself; while he is quite capable of violence when necessary in the life he leads, he is also capable of a way of thinking far removed from his companions. I liked that Orm was a transitional character, a bit out of step with the life that was passing, and apparently (although the next book should reveal) gradually adjusting to the changes that would be required -- because he had a more flexible way of thinking.

    No, I liked Orm and many of his oath-sworn brothers. The sense of reality, often brutish, was what I thought would be less appealing to women.

    I do intend to try Books 2 & 3 because, although the elder Orm makes only brief comments, I liked him, as well, and I'm eager to see the difficulties encountered by men whose place in history is so rapidly changing.

    Thanks for the visit and the hints of what the future holds for "the Bear Slayer."