I'm a sucker for Norse legends so when I heard about The Polaris Whisper I was intrigued. Cultures clashing, epic quests and hidden mysteries; sounds like a novel that might be right up my street.
Niclaus spends a large part of the story ignorant of his origins and also what fate has in store for him. He has grown up in a small village with his brother, Orrin. Both siblings, along with all the other young men in the local area, dream of winning the right to lead. The Trial of Endurance is a rite of passage that they all must endure. Brutal, and potentially fatal, it pits brother against brother and friendships are tested to their very limit.
The other character that really stood out for me is Vidar. When we first meet him he comes across as a bit of a loner, never staying in one place for long, always on the move. As the plot unfolds you learn that he has been tasked with a very special quest. Each year he has to travel to the inhospitable snow covered wastes in the far north. He needs to locate "something" for his friend Cado. Vidar's journey was a highlight. You get a real sense that this is a man totally driven to achieve his goal. Slowly, as details are revealed, you begin to understand why he is so focused.
There is an evocative quality to Gregory's writing that struck a chord with me. I read another review that felt the story was a little slow, but I'm going to have to disagree. It's not slow, it's wonderfully detailed. The hard lives that the villagers have to endure are caught in vivid detail. Winters are long and hard, there are predators everywhere and the reader gets to experience it all.
I haven't even mentioned the on-going conflict between the Hakon the Black and followers of the White Cross yet. Hakon and his Norsemen are expert warriors and sailors controlling the seas with their dragon boats. They follow the old gods, Odin, Freya, Thor etc. Meanwhile the devotees of the White Cross are Christian, spending their time with more scholarly pursuits. These differing lifestyles and theologies cause a friction that inevitably leads to violence.
Alternating chapters of the novel are split over two different time periods, approximately forty years apart. The two strands weave together, complimenting one another to form an absorbing tale. As some of the same characters appear in both time periods, it's definitely worthwhile keeping an eye on the dates at the beginning of each new chapter. This way you can ensure to avoid any confusion with what is happening and when.
I'll not mention anything that could be misconstrued as a spoiler, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a little about how this novel ends. I have to applaud the author, he managed the suitably impressive feat of an entirely unexpected conclusion to this story. I'll hold my hand up and admit that I did not see it coming. Well played Mr. Gregory. I'll confess I feel like a bit of a fool now, but don't be disappointed I mean this as the highest compliment. In hindsight I realise that there were subtle signs throughout the narrative but I missed them all. I'm always impressed when an author manages to throw me a curveball like this. It's great when you're reading someone's work for the first time and it defies your expectations.
This feels like just the beginning of a much larger story and I have a burning curiosity to learn what happens next. The Polaris Whisperer is a consistently entertaining debut that fuses together some understated, but well crafted, fantasy elements with a compelling historical adventure. I'm going to make a point of keeping an eye out for more from this author in the future.
on 4 October 2013
I was lucky enough to get a preview copy of Polaris Whisper. The title doesn't give anything away and nor does the cover, and when you first begin the book it seems very much in the George RR Martin vein of realistic, grimy historical fantasy. But read on...
The setting is Earth, in the years 800-837 AD, and the narrative jumps back and forth between the front and back of this time period like a metronome. Monks work to complete their beautiful illustrated Bibles (the Book of Kells being the most famous real-life example, I think), and we focus in on the story of two men; Tomas the monk and Vidar the explorer. Tomas befriends a strange little dwarf from the mysterious village of Newgrange - these dwarfs seem to have some magical abilities. Vidar, meanwhile, has had an eventful past (no doubt to be explored in sequels) and is on a quest to find a quasi-mystical place in the far, far North of the world.
Gregory's prose is effective. He doesn't over-dwell on the minor details (always a bugbear of mine) and he keeps the story moving along - there's an excellent sense of "just one more chapter" that pervades throughout that I know from personal experience kept me up reading late a few nights running. The non-linear nature of the narrative is a lovely, effective tool; clues dropped in the future illuminate details of the past, and vice versa, so the story structure slowly builds itself up details-wise from two directions at once. It's a neat trick.
Ultimately though, it's in the last ten or so pages that I had my biggest surprise. This book's ending was such an "oh my God, is that...??? could he be talking about...??? I didn't just read....???" moment that its audacity took my breath away. I hope anyone doesn't spoil it here in the reviews section, but (and treading VERY carefully myself) let's just say Polaris Whisper is much more than just another Vikings-and-dwarfs saga. It's something much more surprising, more ambitious, and more fun than that, and I hope others have the wonderful moment I did when the pieces fell into place.
Looking forward to the next installments!!!
This is an engaging saga which spans some 45 years. The dialogue switches between the events of the early 800s AD to a second period commencing about thirty years later. Although these do not seem to be related initially, the connection gradually becomes clearer and the same characters start to appear in both parts. Although there are supernatural elements to this story, these are not sufficient to class it as a fantasy and most of it is fairly down to earth but very entertaining.
The action takes place between Spitzbergen, Norway and Ireland. Spitzbergen is referred to by its alternative name Svalbard and Ireland as Erin. The clue to Norway is Lofoten, which are islands off the coast. I thought the descriptions of the frozen wastes of the North were particularly atmospheric - Svalbard really is a frozen wilderness, where even today people are outnumbered by polar bears, which are presumably the snow bears in the book. As today's Lonely Planet says of Svalbard `Encounters between humans and polar bears rarely end well' and this is certainly the case in this story!
The story itself is fairly intricately woven but entirely coherently put together, the central figures being Vidar, who is a man on a quest, and his son Niclaus, adopted at birth, who is anticipating `the trial' where young men of the village race to decide who will be the leader of the community. Latterly the trial takes place and is quite an absorbing contest. The book very deliberately does not tie up all the loose ends and at the very end there is stated `The Beginning' which is a very clear statement of intent that we should expect quite a few more volumes in this series.
Personally I thoroughly enjoyed this tale and got caught up in it as it went along. The author is very good at shaping his characters and this is an interesting story. Any future books will certainly be on my reading list. Highly Recommended!
on 25 September 2013
Unlike most fantasy adventures the author does not invent a new world but rather uses the Vikings in Europe and Ireland as a backdrop. The story spans a few decades and jumps back and forward which can be a little confusing but didn't really take away from the enjoyment. I would have liked a bit more description of both the Norse and Irish landscapes but then that's probably just me because I may have recognised some of them.
The story picked up pace as the book progressed, although I did feel that there could have been more character development as I didn't have as much of an emotional pull as I would have expected as danger threatened the hero and his family.
There are all the elements here to carry an epic trilogy, some magic (but not too much) a quest, a family mixed with the hero and anti-hero, love, war and bloodshed.
Overall a thumbs up from me as I did finish wanting to see what happens next, always a good sign.
on 5 October 2013
This historical adventure story captured me right from the beginning. As the story moves back and forth over a period of time(40 years approx) I found myself caught in the trap of reading quicker to find out what happened.In doing this I missed clues throughout which amazed me when all the pieces came together.I have never read such a wonderful book where I found it so hard to describe how good it is without giving away it's secrets. The Polaris whisper is in a league all of its own it covers all categories adventure, history, mythical with even a bit of romance.All I can say is The Polaris Whisper is My book of the year
on 1 July 2014
Met the author at belfast comic con and bought the book on impulse, very glad I did. Loved the story. Love the patient story telling, the characters were believable. Liked the way they done the right thing although it pained them. Looking forward to the next book and seeing the stronger female roles. will definitely be watching out for other works by the author.
on 29 October 2013
It was a brilliant read and it kept you guessing the plot throughout the book . I loved the combination of Irish and Norse references in the book . I loved reading it and would read it again in a heartbeat
on 3 October 2013
From the moment I lifted the book i became addicted, I just simply couldn't put it down! Throughout the book I got attached to many of the characters including my favourite Vidar. Definitely worth a read!
on 22 October 2013
I finished this book wanting more. Fortunately that seems to be what the author is planning. It is fast paced, especially when the tension builds up in the sections about 'The Trial'. The interweaving of themes from Christian, Celtic and Norse legend and mythology create an atmospheric tale of mystery and intrigue. Very entertaining.
on 11 May 2015
To be honest, I did find it a little slow to begin with, but stuck with it for good measure and I am so glad I did!
I love everything about this book. Despite the slow start, as soon as I got stuck in it I couldn't put the book down! The characters are so real, the setting historically grounded and therefore totally believable. Tracing the storyline through different years was an interesting approach and I did have my doubts about it at first, but it worked brilliantly.
There is much to be praised about this book but instead of me talking about it, go and read it! I promise, it won't disappoint.