Review: Crowbone

Robert Low - Crowbone
Crowbone by Robert Low
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


A complete load of cliched old cobblers.

What a disappointment. What a big fat, arrogant, bloated disappointment this was. I couldn’t quite put my finger is on why has it taken me so long to start reading this one but as soon as I got about 100 pages in, I managed it. A memory came back to me from the end of The Prow Beast (#4 in the Oathsworn series) that it seemed like things were going astray. That this Crowbone imbecile was the wrong character to develop. And I was right. Crowbone does nothing to endear himself to us in, erm…Crowbone, for all his odd-coloured eyes supposedly signifying Deep Meaning. He comes over as nothing more than a petulant boy, stamping his little foot saying “I am king of Norway. I AM! and missing his mother’s skirts to hide in. And the constant, meaningless story-telling. Enough with that! Does nothing. Show me someone who diesn’t skip those bits.

And then show me someone who isn’t stopped dead by stuff like this: “There was silence, profound as snow; the bleeding men dripped quietly.” Or who isn’t irritated by his having a character think things through, but end the paragraph on “…and he said as much.” Again and again. And again. I lost count of how many times he used that. Clearly, Robert Low’s answer to Anthony Riches’ ‘raised an ~eyebrow’ Tourette. And if they’re not doing that, they’re scowling at each other. It’s on almost every scowling page. Sometimes receiving a scowl in return. Or a group scowl. Or an eyes to heaven…O wait, that’s from me.

Whilst writing, he’s clearly had the Great Viking Story Writer’s Book Of Cliches – Revised and Updated open at his side. Page one of that states: “In Viking Times, it rained non-stop. And blew a gale. All the time. Rain – authentic Viking story. Sunshine – Hollywood nonsense. Nothing says ‘Evil Deeds Being Done or Planned, in Viking Times,’ better than bad weather.” So, as “the wind hissed out of the dark, thick with sea salt and fear…” we pretty much get a something that for much of its interminable length, resembles the start of Macbeth – all the way through. “Ooh, looks like clearing-up weather, help me get the washing on the line, Ragnar” just isn’t gonna cut it in Real Viking Circles.

So, he’s covered the story with so much superfluous crap it’s hard to get through to what is actually trying to write about. It’s obvious that when he’s written some of this bloated nonsense that he’s sat back, hugged himself, picked crumbs from his beard, stroked the cat and thought “That’s great. They’ll never understand that!”

“‘They are Oathsworn,’ he reminded them and saw the cat and dog chase of that across faces until they worked out the power of the oath they had sworn.” Come again?

So, apart from being set in Viking Times, in the rain (obviously), where exactly is all this taking place? They wander aimlessly around Great Britain and may even end up in Lapland, it’s hard to tell. Though wait, I think at some point they’ve washed up, as the result of storm most likely, in Ireland. I’m not too sure as I kind of lost track of where they were several times. Let’s see if the book can give any clues…”’Dómnall Claen mac Lorcán,’ the High King declared blearily. ‘Sure, it is good to have you back among us, so it is.’” Yup, they are in modern day Viking Time, Ireland.

And “plootering”? Is that authentic Viking-speak? Anywhere?

Is there anything to justify Harry Sidebottom’s lofty claim on the front that ’no modern novelist knows more about the Vikings than Robert Low’? A little. He, like Harry Sidebotton does in Latin, includes a few Norse Words You Don’t Understand, with helpful translation…that make you wonder why he’s putting them in if he’s gonna translate them anyway. Most are right. How do I know? Because I speak Danish. He gets the ‘eyeblink’ one right, as in Danish, we use ‘øjeblik’ to signify a very shory period, a moment. Some are close to their modern usage. One was wrong, but I nodded off and forgot to write it down. Oh and, he really wants us to know he can play ‘Hnefatafl.’ The last ‘Viking’ book I read, The Sea Road by Margaret Elphinstone was effortlessly better in every way. Mood, nuance, interest, Norse knowledge, every way possible. I suggest Harry Sidebottom read The Sea Road and reconsider his rather rash comments.

Whether it’s based on actual history, as he hints at at the end, it’s hard to say. It’s hard to care. It’s hard to summon up any feelings really. Apart from irritation. That’s two weeks I’M not getting back. All the superfluous over-elaborate verbal nonsense, is just that, nonsense. Does absolutely nothing to get the story across and ends up getting in the way of whatever the story might have been. “In the name of Odin! Are there NO good points?!” you say. Well, as if he knows he is proving my starting point, the best bits are at the end. Not the fact that I’ve reached the end (in itself a good thing), but the reappearance of Orm, the main character of  the first three ‘Oathsworn’ tales. Suddenly, the whole thing is transformed, has meaning, stops meandering, has interest and I care about what is happening for the all too few pages Orm and Finn are present. THIS proves that Crowbone was the wrong way to go. If he ever carries on with Crowbone, I’m off. If Orm came back, I’d come back.

Other nonsense from me on Goodreads


Update 23 April

Vikings only sailed in bad weather? if you read Robert Low books you’d probably be forgiven for thinking so.


Fierce and wild is the wind tonight;
It tosses the tresses of the sea to white;
On such a night as this I feel at ease;
Fierce Northmen only course the quiet seas.

So wrote an Irish monk in the margins of an Irish copy of a Latin and Greek grammar book that he was studying, in the mid-9th Century.

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