The Prow Beast
Harper Collins UK (358 pp, $24.95, 2010)
Reviewed by Bill Ward
It was with some sorrow that I came to the last page in Robert Low’s The Prow Beast — the fourth and, sadly (for now?), final book in the excellent Oathsworn saga. Beginning with 2007’s The Whale Road, the Oathsworn series has followed Orm Ruriksson’s intrepid band of adventurers the length and breadth of the Viking world in the 10th Century, from Scandinavia to Constantinople, from Jerusalem to the steppes of Russia, all the while taking them from an obscure band of raiders to far-famed men the subject of song and saga. And it is this fame that lies heavily around the necks of the Oathsworn in this final volume, for their reputation makes them both a target and an ill fit for a settled life away from the sea.
The novel begins with a bang, in the middle of a grim sea-fight against desperate odds — and a wildly dangerous pack of ulfhednar, the ‘berserkers’ of Viking lore. Orm, our narrator for the whole of the saga, then backtracks to explain how his men’s current predicament came to pass, and how the alliance of revenge-fueled Randr Starki and Pallig Tokeson, King of the Joms, was born. A perfect storm of factors collides upon the Oathsworn, who find themselves hated, their treasure coveted, and the pregnant Queen with whom they were entrusted, Sigrith, wife of the King of Sweden, hunted by rivals who do not wish to see her birth an heir to the throne. The Oathsworn’s Hestreng Hall is looted and burned, their longship the Fjord Elk destroyed by Greek fire, and the remnants of the Oathsworn and their families find themselves hunted and on the run. And that is just the beginning.