Top critical review
8 people found this helpful
A Decent Debut But Not Outstandng
on 19 May 2008
In his afterword at the end of the Whale Road the author, Robert Low, says that his intention in writing the book had beem to create a 'saga' in the old-nordic tradition. Not being a regular saga reader I have no idea whether or not he managed this, but he did manage to create a reasonably entertaining and compelling tale of 'Vikings' during the Dark Ages in Northern & Central Europe.
Written in the first person from the hindsight perspective of the youngest of a band of mercenary warriors (not all are Viks from Norway so to call them Viking would be inaccurate) it is not a perfect debut by any means. By choosing a first person narrative, Low does drop the reader right into the heart of the story and its environment. By the same action however, he removes the possibility of using any dramatic irony or contemporary commentary on events. Than means the story has to stick to a very in a very linear and one dimensional story arc and limits the amount of explanation or context that can be given for the events that occur. Everything, characters, places and events, can only be seen through the eyes of the narrator, Orm, which automatically and at times frustratingly restricts our view of the world we are introduced to.
This lack of extra detail does however, mean that Whale Road avoids becoming too bloated and long winded. It is well paced too, with a feeling of constant forward motion towards it conclusion. At no point during it length did I feel bored by the book.
I did feel however, feel mildly frustrated at the author's insistence on introducing quasi-mystical or supernatural elements to the story. Whilst never openly acknowledged as being 'real' I felt that the suggestion that supernatural forces might be involved in events didn't sit well with the rest of the story. For ninety five percent of the time this felt like a historical adventure set in a real world. To suddenly throw in possession by evil spirits just didn't work. Yes, Low might have wanted to write a Saga, and sagas did involve God's and other non-human characters, but for those sort of elements to work the story must be fully committed to them. To simply tack them on to an otherwise historically accurate and realistic tale because they make a useful plot device, as Robert Low does, simply leaves them feeling out of place and unrealistic and pulls you out of the world he is portraying.
I'm not sure whether The Whale Road has done enough to get me to read the second installment of the adventures of the Oathsworn. May be when it comes into paperback and assuming I have nothing else to read I will give it a try, and on that basis I can only rate The Whale Road as a qualified success.