Robert Low, a burly man with steely eyes, pushed a Viking sword in my hand, a rusted Gjermundbu helmet on my head, and said with a rich Highland brogue "Consider yourself volunteered". As I fastened my gear, he slapped my shoulder with a big calloused hand and led me towards a hundred or so battle ready warriors who were working themselves up into a frenzy. With a cheer they greeted their fighting companion, then with flags held high and robust singing, we marched to the battlefield to defend Scotland against the invading army from the far north.
I had travelled to Largs to meet this celebrated Scottish journalist, author and Viking re-enactor, to ask him about his much acclaimed Oathsworn novels, and now I literally had to fight for the interview.
Police and health and safety workers ensured the thousand or more eager spectators were safely behind a large roped off area. The spectators cheered as we aproached the battlefield where the oppposing army waited, ready with swords, shields, axes and taunts. An announcer's voice came over the loud speaker to repeat what Robert had told me just a few hours earlier, that this was to be a reenactment of the Battle of Largs, which took place on the 2nd of October in 1263, between the kingdoms of Norway and Scotland. This battle was part of the Norwegian expedition against Scotland, in which King Haakon Haakonarson of Norway attempted to reassert Norwegian sovereignty over the western part of Scotland.
After some fanfare, the two armies collided with ferocity. Skilled reenactors yelled and swung their weapons at each other with flare, much to the appreciation of the audience. Fist one side won, then the opposite side, then the first side again. At the end of the final clash, all reeanactors were brought back to life in the name of Odin so they could wave to the cheering spectators.
It was beginning to get dark, and as all the warriors sat down, Robert led me to a taped off area near an old boat that had been fixed up to look like a Viking Longship. Someone hoisted a striped square sail on the boat, then several archers appeared, lit their arrows, fit them to their longbows, took aim and fired. The flaming arrows arched through the air then struck the boat. Within minutes it was engulfed in flames.
As we sat on the grass, watching the boat burn, I asked Robert about the historical accuracy, level of detail and graphic fight scenes in his Oathsworn novels. His answers were as compelling as the books themselves.
When he was still a teenager, Robert was a war correspondent in Vietnam. Later he covered the fighting in Sarajevo, Romania and Kosova. After his stint as war correspondant, Robert moved to an area rich in Viking tradition, started riding, taught himself horse archery, took up re-enactment and joined The Vikings group. After witnessing and reporting real warfare from the trenches, and then immersing himself in everything Viking, Robert had the ability to write about Viking life and battles with gritty understanding.
There is an assured and convincing tone to Robert's writing, and there is a rough realism to his rousing Oathsworn Saga that reveals much of the Viking Age and how Vikings lived that history books never could. In book one, Robert transports the reader on to a raiding Viking Longship, with a sense of realism that keeps the reader hooked to the end of the engaging, authentic, violent and extremely readable adventures, as his accolades attest:
"A company of warriors, desperate battles – an enthralling read" ~ Bernard Cornwell
"A fantastic book, one of the best I have read for years. There’s a wonderful earthiness to proceedings and Robert creates a tangible sense of being there” ~ Simon Scarrow
"No modern novelist knows more about the Vikings than Robert Low” ~ Harry Sidebottom
“I’ve read all 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.” ~ Angus Donald
Robert was a fantastic host who enriched my stay in Largs immensely. He conveyed much about the viking legacy of Largs, and of Sotland's history in a fascinating and witty way. Robert's latest work, The Kingdom Series, that deals with the Scottish Wars of Independence - the era of Wallace, Bruce and Edward Longshanks, are gripping novels that have been very well recieved. When Robert isn't writing or giving talks, you can still find him with sword and shield in hand, participating in steel weapon battles at festivals.