Last week Caitlin Moran wrote in the Alpha Mummy blog in The Times – timesonline.typepad.com/alphamummy/ – that when she was a child and finished a particularly good book she would cry. Now I don’t normally read the Alpha Mummy blog, it’s not really my sort of thing, bit too mimsy-mumsy for me, but I’ll read anything, I mean absolutely anything, by Caitlin Moran – she could be making random letters in the snow for her kids with the water from a hot kettle, and I’d want to read them – and I know exactly what she means about the sadness you feel when you finish a really good book.
There ought to be a posh word for it: post-textual tristesse (PTT) or something. Let’s go with that. Anyway, I now have a bad case of PTT after reading the fourth and last book in Robert Low’s peerless Oathsworn series: The Prow Beast. I was very privileged to be sent an advance copy of the book, which is coming out in hardback in March. And I would urge anyone who likes a good bloody saga to buy it as soon as it is available. (Actually, if you don’t know Robert Low’s superb work already, you should probably start with The Whale Road, the first of the Oathsworn books – go to www.robert-low.com/ for more information)
The Prow Beast is the final book in a quartet of epic novels about a band of Viking raiders known as the Oathsworn, led by Orm Bear Slayer, the narrator and hero: they are wintry, tough, big-hearted novels written in the most exquisite, lyrical prose, the language as sharp as a Dane axe and just as weighty and well-balanced. The tenth century Viking world is evoked with wonderful clarity: you can almost taste the salt spray; smell the man-stink of sweat, fear and sodden wool as the Norse oarsmen pull their frail craft into the teeth of a gale. The battle scenes are finely executed – no mere “gore-nography” just a real sense of what it must have been like to stand with your knees shaking, cold steel in your chapped hands, a brother warrior at your shoulder, and look certain death squarely in the eye.
I’ve read all four Oathsworn books and I loved them all – but The Prow Beast is, I think, the best of them all: poignant, muscular, magical and impossible to put down. Hell, that’s enough from me – just buy a copy, read it and see for yourself.