An intriguing fable of revenge and of prophecy, this was like reading a metaphysical Dances with Wolves.
Like Welburn’s Ashen Levels, there is a sort of dreamlike quality to this tale, so that you are never quite sure what to expect next. It’s a book that defies categorisation, both its strength and weakness.
Our setting is a sort of fantasy version of the Viking North Sea (for me). Oben, the mc, a farmer from lush Edale (England?) travels to Skaligar (Scotland?), occupied by the Skalgs (Vikings) from Eisalhelm (Scandinavia?)
He is on a mission of revenge. Except it takes us a while to understand why. Even then, there’s something about it that doesn’t quite make sense. When the fearsome Skalgs take him, they become convinced he is an agent of destiny and prophecy. And, of course, the reader is never quite sure if they’re right about him or not.
Despite this mysterious aura around him, Oben is one of those ordinary characters doing extraordinary things. Set a series of tasks like a character from Greek legend, it becomes increasingly clear that, whatever his own thoughts on it, he will be at the centre of a clash between his old home and his new, adopted one.
Written as a standalone, the author is obviously tempted to return to this new world he created. Good news, because I enjoyed the mystery of it – this is almost Welburn’s trademark. But at other times I wanted the fog to clear and get to know these characters and their world a little bit more than I came to.
For those who’ve read Welburn before, it goes without saying how well written it is. Have a read yourself for some grimdark style moral greyness, gritty adventure, myth, mystery and madness.