"The Walrus Mutterer" by Mandy Haggith is an utterly compelling book, which spins an almost ethereal tale around the brutal life of the people of Northern Britain during the Iron Age. This is the story of Rian, a young woman whose carefree life is overturned when she becomes enslaved to a spiteful trader. She is wrenched away from the mother figure who has nurtured her and forced to embark on a perilous sea voyage in search of the fabled hunter know as the Walrus Mutterer. She is treated cruelly by her captor and abused by a mysterious fellow passenger, Pytheas the Greek. The ill treatment meted out to her tests the limits of her endurance and Rian has to dig deep to retain any semblance of the free spirit that has defined her early life. She develops a steely reserve and uses her skills and knowledge as an apprentice healer to barter for her life on more than one occasion.
Despite the narrative being at times brutal and harrowing, Mandy Haggith paints an exquisite pen picture of life on land, of life at sea and of the complexity of the relationships between the characters in this novel. The reader travels with Rian on her journey, experiencing what she sees and smells and feels. For this reader, who has long sought out historic monuments and stood within the fallen walls of a broch trying to get a sense of what it might have been like to have lived there, "The Walrus Mutterer" is utterly believable. One can almost smell the peat smoke, imagine what it would have been like to live and bed down inside the walls, and feel the haar on your face and the chill of the early morning as you step outside.
Mandy Haggith's writing is at its most colourful when describing the experience of being at sea in the flimsiest of craft; where Gods are summoned and worshipped through rituals intended to ensure safe passage. She transports the reader to a place, in a dark corner of the boat, where the wind is howling and the sea merciless in its endeavours to crush those seeking the safety of the land. And, once back on dry land, you are taken to a colourful landscape where it is almost possible to smell the wild flowers and the scent of the sea in the air. Her description of Rian's first experience of the northern lights is nothing short of magical.
"The Walrus Mutterer" is a beautifully crafted book which gathers momentum and interest as it progresses. For those of us to whom the landscape and waters are familiar, it gives us a delightful insight into what life might have been like for the people who walked its shores and plied its waters in a time long before most of us can even imagine. Read it, you most certainly won't be disappointed.