Gemmell, David A.

About the Author:

 

David A. Gemmell's first novel, 'Legend', was published in 1984.  He lived in East Sussex, England until his death in 2006.

 

AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:

4.4 out of 5

(16 books)

Dark Moon

This book, one of Gemmell's stand-alone novels, is an entertaining and compelling fantasy.  In the story, one man's obsession with the magical Eldarin Pearl causes ancient bonds to be broken and the brutal and sadistic Daroth to be unleashed upon the world after millennia of imprisonment. 

Beginning quietly, with whispers of this new threat, the story progresses into a battle for the very survival of the human race.  The three main characters are all that you could want out of a band of heroes.  Duvodas is gifted with powerful magic and is a consumate pacifist, until his beloved is murdered.  Karis is a brilliant warrior and strategist and is sexual, without being a 2D fantasy dominatrix type.  Finally, there is Tarantio, a master-swordsman who shares his mind with a demonic alter-ego called Dace. 

A lot of fun to read and emotional too, this book got me hooked on Gemmell.

5 out of 5

 

Hero In The Shadows

A Drenai novel and the conclusion of Waylander's trilogy.  The former assassin has moved far from the Drenai lands and has become a wealthy and respected merchant known as the Grey Man.  However, demon-summoning sorcerers have set their sights on his land and Waylander is reluctantly forced into the role of hero once more, in order to defend those under his protection.  Fighting with him are a skilled young warrior girl, a shape-shifting priestess, a master swordsman and a foolish but courageous ditch-digger. 

I found this book to be much better written than the previous two Waylander books, having greater depth and subtlety.  I also enjoyed its exploration of the grey areas between hero and villain in which Waylander walks.  Only two things bothered me about this book, the first simply being that the book's ending creates a paradox within the series' continuity (that sort of thing just bugs me).  The second thing is more significant and it is that the big evil dude, Daresh Karany, dies in exactly the same way as the big evil dude of the previous book, as if Gemmell had forgotten he'd already written that scene once. 

Overall this is a deeply enjoyable book which illustrates the refining of the author's skill since last he wrote a story of the Slayer.

Followed by 'The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend'.

5 out of 5

 

Legend

The first book (albeit not chronologically) of the Drenai series.  Sieges, in which the heroic defenders face down overwhelming odds, are the bread and butter of epic fantasy, so with his first novel Gemmell gives us just that.  The immense Nadir army is moving towards the Drenai fortress of Dros Delnoch and the aging hero Druss the Legend has but a short amount of time to turn the weak and frightened defenders into warriors. 

The name of the book is incredibly appropriate, because rather than simply writing a fantasy novel, Gemmell endeavours to write a story of legend and he largely succeeds.  There is a wonderful camp-fire storytelling quality to the story which is an interesting counterpoint to the fact that the characters in it all talk dismissively of the stories men tell about war.  The author has a strong talent for creating larger than life heroes, whose exploits do defy belief but who it is so easy to fall in behind as their story progresses; such is Druss. 

Overall this is an enjoyable read for those like myself who enjoy the old stories about heroes standing their ground in the face of death.  There are downsides, however.  The first is that I felt Regnak and Virae's love story was more than a little rushed at first.  One minute they're awkward strangers, the next they're having sex and by the time they wake up the next day they're planning their life together. 

The other major flaw is the convenience of the later events of the story.  In a story about impossible odds, you expect (demand, in fact!) a deus ex machina at the end to help the main characters overcome those odds, but FOUR?  The well timed arrival of the Sathuli I can accept and, despite being all too convenient, I can accept the Nadir having to withdraw.  However, Virae's return and the ghostly reinforcements were just too far-fetched to stand as they are and Gemmell offers us no real explanation of how these events came about.  So, not a perfect book, but still a good one.

Followed by 'The King Beyond the Gate'

4 out of 5

 

Midnight Falcon

The second Rigante novel, this one follows Connavar's bastard son Bane.  Bane is shunned and hated by all but a few of the Rigante and eagerly travels into the territory of Stone to learn to become a gladiator.  He is given added incentive when the murder of his beloved places him on a quest for vengeance. 

Bane as a character isn't too far removed from Connavar, albeit a fair bit more bitter, but this book has the benefit of some very good new characters, foremost being Rage. 

The story progresses well from the simple Rigante life, to brutal and enthralling gladiatorial combat and finally to Bane's acceptance of his birthright as the forces of Stone march against the Rigante. 

The blatant historical parallel (Stone=Rome, Jasaray=Julius Caesar, Keltoi=Celts) still troubles me, but that fault is balanced by the brilliant scene involving Bane, Rage, Jasaray and a tiger in a hedge maze.  Easily equal to its predecessor, but potentially a little too similar for some people's liking.

Followed by 'Ravenheart'.

5 out of 5

 

Quest For Lost Heroes

A book of the Drenai, set several decades after 'The King Beyond the Gate'.  This book focuses on a young man whose beloved is kidnapped by slavers, causing him to undertake a quest to find and free her.  On the way he is accompanied by a group of warriors, once famous heroes but now fading into obscurity.

There has been some criticism levelled at the Drenai in that they're simply rehashes of the same plot.  Whilst there is an element of truth to that, it is Gemmell's pitch-perfect writing of what are basically mythical archetypes that make his books so compelling.  So, whilst the themes and characters here do feel overly familiar, their adventures make for thoroughly entertaining reading.

I particularly enjoyed seeing Tenaka Khan's change in status since he starred in the last book.

Followed by 'Winter Warriors'

4 out of 5

 

Ravenheart

The third Rigante novel and centuries have passed since 'Midnight Falcon'.  The Rigante have been conquered and are racially opressed by the arrogant Varlish. 

This novel tackles many issues not dealt with in the other books, racism, religious corruption and the concept of bigots holding show-trials that is all too prevalent in our own history.  The main character, Kaelin Ring, is once again a bit of a Connavar rip-off, being a heroic and passionate youth with a much darker side.  However, it is the supporting characters, such as Maev Ring, Alterith Shaddler, Chain Shada and (in particular) Jaim Grymauch, that gives this book its unique edge. 

The main body of the story is fairly familiar territory, but the trial of Maev Ring is a beautiful piece of drama and Grymauch's last scene is heart-rending and brilliant.

Followed by 'Stormrider'.

4 out of 5

 

Stormrider

The fourth and final Rigante novel.  Set just a few years on from 'Ravenheart', the lands south of the Rigante territory are wracked by civil war.  Once again, Gemmell's historical cloning (in this case the English Civil War) sits a bit uneasily with me, but there we go. 

As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Gemmell has made a radical departure from his previous stories, as he begins to introduce one of the big fantasy cliches, a Dark Lord.  This adds another level of supernatural tension to the Rigante series, but I felt it was unnecessary. 

The basic premise of this book is duality, however.  The duality of Gemmell's main characters recurs, but the duality of the other characters also emerges as Huntsekker the assassin shows his more gentle side, a pair of honourless thieves become heroes, the evil Moidart begins to show compassion (a shocker for those who've read 'Ravenheart') and the Stormrider himself becomes more like the father he always despised. 

A slightly disappointing end to a very good series, but well written for all that.

4 out of 5

 

Sword In The Storm

The first novel in the Rigante series, 'Sword In The Storm' introduces us to the Rigante people; honourable, fierce and gifted with the ability to feed the magic of the world.  Among these people is born Connavar, the Sword in the Storm, a youth with great potential marred by his tendency to be ruled by his passions. 

It is Gemmell's strongest talent (although also his much repeated one) that he is able to create wonderfully endearing characters who have a duality to them which tears them apart and Connavar is the prime example. 

Mixing Celtic mythology, with a bit of heroic fantasy and a lump of pseudo-history is a winning combination and makes for a great read.  Two main faults, however, are the fact that the book builds towards a confrontation with the armies of Stone, but ends before it actually happens.  Most frustrating.  The other problem is the name Stone itself.  You'd think that if he was going to use a historical basis (ie Rome), Gemmell would at least avoid such an obvious sounding parallel.

Followed by 'Midnight Falcon'.

5 out of 5

 

The First Chronicles Of Druss The Legend

This Drenai book does exactly what it says on the tin.  It's the story of a simple woodsman, disliked and plagued by rage, who sets off on a quest to rescue the only person who every truly understood him, his wife Rowena.  The woodsman is, of course, Druss. 

I enjoyed the way that from the start he has the strength and the instincts he needs, but it is his interactions with the other characters that allows him to learn to control his temper and fight skillfully.  As Druss travels he is sidetracked into numerous violent encounters, be it pit fighting or being an Emperor's champion, that establish him as a living legend.  This means that the overall plot lacks cohesion, but Gemmell writes as well as ever and perhaps it's best to think of the book as a series of linked adventures. 

One thing that I really liked was that the author gives us a lengthy epilogue, which skips ahead a couple of decades.  This ending shows how Druss begins to become the weary old warrior we see in 'Legend', but also shows that he's got what it takes to win another famous victory.  In a place called Skeln Pass.

Followed by 'White Wolf'

4 out of 5

 

The King Beyond The Gate

A book of the Drenai series, set about a century after 'Legend'.  Here we're introduced to Tenaka Khan, a young warrior who is descended from the leaders of both side of the Battle for Dros Delnoch, giving him both Drenai and Nadir heritage.  He fights alongside a group of Drenai warriors to defeat the mad emperor Ceska.

Unless this is your first Gemmell novel (which it shouldn't be, because this is not the best place to start), then you'll probably know what to expect.  Heroes with dark sides, veteran warriors facing overwhelming odds and sinister forces using dark magic.

The author doesn't stretch himself with this one, but the simple truth is that even Gemmell on an off day is still an incredible piece of mythic storytelling.

Followed by 'Quest for Lost Heroes'.

4 out of 5

 

The Legend Of Deathwalker

On the battlements of Dros Delnoch, amid the events of 'Legend' Gemmell returns us to the world of the Drenai and to the life of Druss the Legend.  Druss tells the tale of how he earned the name Deathwalker as well as the respect of the Nadir thirty years before. 

The plot revolves around the Nadir named Talisman who seeks two magical jewels which will bring about the age of the Uniter, destined to gather the Nadir into one people.  However, opposed to Talisman is a sadistic minister, a bigoted general and the fierce army of Gulgothir.  The story is typically Gemmell; with bonds of brotherhood forged in battle, evil sadistic villains and, of course, a hopeless siege.  Whilst this repetition of ideas used in his other books works in an if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it sort of way, it still might damage the overall impact of the story. 

However, what makes this book worth the read is, as ever, Druss himself.  Amid complex characters like the coward-hero Sieben and Talisman's dilemma between duty and love, Druss stands out.  He is a man for whom the right thing is the only option, regardless of how hard it might be to do, and for whom honour is the highest virtue.  Druss is the sort of man we all wish we were and all wish we knew and, as such, carries this already good book on his broad shoulders.

Followed by 'Legend'.

4 out of 5

 

The Swords Of Night And Day

The final Drenai novel and the conclusion of the Damned subseries, set a millennium after the events of 'White Wolf'.  The swordsman Skilgannon is brought back to life a thousand years after his death and finds himself at odds with the Witch Queen Jianna, the reincarnation of his greatest love.

Skilgannon remains one of Gemmell's more interesting characters; a man who came to his moral code and honour the long way round, as opposed to those (like Druss the Legend) to whom it comes naturally.  His exploration of this strange future makes for interesting reading, as we see him confront the moral conundrums of his own violent nature and his love for the woman who he must destroy.

Thrown into the mix is a great cast of supporting characters, not least resurrected 'clones' of Druss and Decado.  In fact, it was Skilgannon's attempts to teach the values of Druss to the Legend's clone that made for some of this book's best scenes.

Overall, this is an appropriate end to the Drenai saga, since I felt that, had the author lived to tell stories even further ahead in the timeline, we may have ended up too distant from the spirit and setting of the novel at the core of the series; 'Legend'.

5 out of 5

 

Waylander

A prequel to 'Legend', set something like a century before that book.  The Drenai are a hunted people, resisting in small forces against an overwhelming foe who has scoured their lands and defeated their armies.  The main character amid this chaos is Waylander, an assassin who is hated by the Drenai for killing their king. 

The overall basis of this book is redemption, specifically Waylander's but also of characters like the assassins Cadoras and Durmast or the monstrous Kai.  This forms an emotional core to which the reader can cling even when the characters are at their most cruel and violent. 

A large part of this book is taken up by a siege in which the defenders face overwhelming odds.  Yes, this is overly similar to the events of 'Legend', but the author writes so compellingly about the grim determination and hopeless courage of the besieged that you may well forgive him the repetition. 

There's lots of interesting foreshadowing in this book too, be it the story of the Armour of Bronze, the founding of Dros Delnoch or the revelations about how the priesthood of the Thirty originally came into being.  Ultimately your enjoyment of this book will come down to your opinion of Waylander as a character and, personally, I felt him to be a well-written anti-hero of the type that Gemmell later perfected in the Rigante books.

Followed by 'Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf'.

4 out of 5

 

Waylander II: In The Realm Of The Wolf

Years after the events of 'Waylander' the assassin and his adopted daughter Miriel are living a quiet life in the mountains when assassins seek them out.  Soon, however, Waylander and Miriel gain allies in the form of the weathered gladiator Angel, the master swordsman Senta and the Nadir hunter Belash. 

Somewhat predictably, the story leads to a dramatic siege in which Miriel, Angel, Senta and Belash help to defend a tribe of Nadir from extermination.  Meanwhile, Waylander set off alone to hunt down their true enemy, the sorcerer Zhu Chao. 

Something I always enjoy in fantasy stories are heroes who aren't plagued by doubt and inadequacy and Waylander and Angel are execellent examples of these seemingly invincible warriors (as is Druss the Legend).  One element of this book which suprised me with its quality was the sexual awakening of Miriel, which is handled very subtly and is never gratuitous. 

This book is fairly predictable and familiar, but it is never less than enjoyable despite that.

Followed by 'Hero in the Shadows'.

4 out of 5

 

White Wolf

A Drenai novel and book one of The Damned subseries.  The book begins in a land plagued by war and civil unrest, wherein a priest reveals himself to be the long-missing warrior Skilgannon the Damned. 

Skilgannon is another brilliant creation of Gemmell's having that deadly confidence of such characters as Wayland and Druss, this time tempered by his past as a mass-murdering general and royal consort.  I very much enjoyed reading the flashbacks to his past and the way in which the author slowly reveals that it is not as clear cut as we may have first thought. 

Skilgannon soon finds himself embroiled in a hopeless quest to rescue a kidnapped child.  This is fairly standard Gemmell fare, but I loved the fact that only the presence of one man is enough to sway Skilgannon onto the path of the hero; and that one man is the ageing Druss the Legend.  The interplay between these two potent characters is a delight to read, as they come to understand one another on a fundamental level. 

This book is truly David Gemmell at his best, providing a story full of sorcery, violence, courage and moral ambiguity.

Followed by 'The Legend of Deathwalker'.

5 out of 5

 

Winter Warriors

A book of the Drenai series, set several decades after 'Quest for Lost Heroes'.  The Drenai army has defeated its enemies and stands victorious.  However, a lifetime of military service is rewarded with ignominious forced retirement for the general known as the White Wolf and his warriors.  A small group of these veterans become the guardians of the unborn future king of the Drenai as he is hunted by dark powers.

As ever, Gemmell provides an enjoyable mythic style of storytelling which is endlessly compelling.  Once again we are introduced to a varied and likeable group of warriors who are just a little over the hill but still formidable, and we follow them on a seemingly hopless quest.  I particularly enjoyed the development of the hatred, rivalry, mistrust and, ultimately, respect that occurs between the two master swordsmen, Nogusta and Antikas Karios.

This book's only real downside, not counting its similarity to the author's other works, is the rather clumsy introduction of demons which are basically vampires.

Followed by 'The Swords of Night and Day'.

4 out of 5

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