The Polaris Whisper by Kenneth Gregory
Niclaus has just one aim in life – to win the Trial of Endurance to become the next leader of his village. The Trial is not without risks, and many have perished trying to complete it.
But little does he realise that Cado, the leader of the magical village of Newgrange, has very different plans for him; plans that involve taking on the might of the Hakon the Black, the most feared Norse lord, and travelling far from everything he knows to defend the White Cross Followers.
Hakon’s savagery knows no bounds; battle lines are forming; power beyond imagining is at stake – and at the heart of it all is Niclaus. Will he have the strength to fulfil his destiny?
I’m a sucker for Norse legends so when I heard about The Polaris Whisper I was intrigued. Cultures clashing, epic quests and hidden mysteries; sounds like a novel that might be right up my street.
Niclaus spends a large part of the story ignorant of his origins and also what fate has in store for him. He has grown up in a small village with his brother, Orrin. Both siblings, along with all the other young men in the local area, dream of winning the right to lead. The Trial of Endurance is a rite of passage that they all must endure. Brutal, and potentially fatal, it pits brother against brother and friendships are tested to their very limit.
The other character that really stood out for me is Vidar. When we first meet him he comes across as a bit of a loner, never staying in one place for long, always on the move. As the plot unfolds you learn that he has been tasked with a very special quest. Each year he has to travel to the inhospitable snow covered wastes in the far north. He needs to locate “something” for his friend Cado. Vidar’s journey was a highlight. You get a real sense that this is a man totally driven to achieve his goal. Slowly, as details are revealed, you begin to understand why he is so focused.
There is an evocative quality to Gregory’s writing that struck a chord with me. I read another review that felt the story was a little slow, but I’m going to have to disagree. It’s not slow, it’s wonderfully detailed. The hard lives that the villagers have to endure are caught in vivid detail. Winters are long and hard, there are predators everywhere and the reader gets to experience it all.
I haven’t even mentioned the on-going conflict between the Hakon the Black and followers of the White Cross yet. Hakon and his Norsemen are expert warriors and sailors controlling the seas with their dragon boats. They follow the old gods, Odin, Freya, Thor etc. Meanwhile the devotees of the White Cross are Christian, spending their time with more scholarly pursuits. These differing lifestyles and theologies cause a friction that inevitably leads to violence.
Alternating chapters of the novel are split over two different time periods, approximately forty years apart. The two strands weave together, complimenting one another to form an absorbing tale. As some of the same characters appear in both time periods, it’s definitely worthwhile keeping an eye on the dates at the beginning of each new chapter. This way you can ensure to avoid any confusion with what is happening and when.
I’ll not mention anything that could be misconstrued as a spoiler, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a little about how this novel ends. I have to applaud the author, he managed the suitably impressive feat of an entirely unexpected conclusion to this story. I’ll hold my hand up and admit that I did not see it coming. Well played Mr. Gregory. I’ll confess I feel like a bit of a fool now, but don’t be disappointed I mean this as the highest compliment. In hindsight I realise that there were subtle signs throughout the narrative but I missed them all. I’m always impressed when an author manages to throw me a curveball like this. It’s great when you’re reading someone’s work for the first time and it defies your expectations.
This feels like just the beginning of a much larger story and I have a burning curiosity to learn what happens next. The Polaris Whisperer is a consistently entertaining debut that fuses together some understated, but well crafted, fantasy elements with a compelling historical adventure. I’m going to make a point of keeping an eye out for more from this author in the future.
The Polaris Whisper is published by Blackstaff Press and is available now