Legend by David Gemmel: A book review
Legend, David Gemmels fantasy debut, is jaw dropping in every sense. The action is fast, accurate and hard hitting, which is good because there's a lot of it, the characters are interesting and original. There's Rek, a coward turned hero through love, Gan Orrin, a man, at first hated by the men he commands only to earn their respect through the ordeals of battle, there's Ulric, a villain who, for once, is not purely evil and to a certain extent likeable, there's Caessa a voluptuous woman who kills the men she sleeps with, exerting her hate for the masculine sex. It's truly enthralling to watch these characters thrive and develop on the battlefield of Dros Delnoch, but, needless to say, all these pale in comparison to the towering achievement that is Druss the legend, a man whose very name sends a shiver of awesome down your spine, go on just say it Druss… the… legend feels good doesn't it? This man is brilliantly executed, the way people react to him and the utter respect they treat him with, truly paints the picture of how revered this man I and, consequently you begin to feel for him yourself, you feel the respect that his peers do. It's captivating. When he's struggling you find yourself concerned only to rise up in celebration as he hews down his foes, it's compelling to see him tested on the walls, as his pride is challenged and his strength assessed. When he trains the men and pushes them to the point of collapse you wonder if he's making the right decision, but he must be, He's DRUSS THE LEGEND, DRUSSS THE LEGEND, he doesn't get anything wrong. Ulric, whom I have mentioned before is also interesting, although he is denied the development he needs he's still one of the more compelling villains in recent memory, as I said he is not wholly evil and wants nothing more than to spread the influence of his tribe. He's a patriot, just like the good guys, he treats his enemies with respect, giving them proper burials and rituals, giving Druss his own funeral pyre. When the enemy enter his camp, asking to join the merriment he greets them as allies and drinks with them, laughs with them and respects them. He's a far-cry from the generic Bond villains that clutter today's media .He fears being condemned by history, when a soldier of his cheat's in a duel against Druss, he is genuinely concerned, he's angry when the heroic exploits of Rek and Druss makes him evil in the eyes of history when he, quite Cleary, is not. Then there's the action, the whole affair feels like 300 in a fantasy universe and that's by no means a bad thing, the sheer hopelessness of the situation really draws you in and compels you to read on, especially as the men fight back a horde that by all means should have killed them. The fighting itself is excellently written and is the place where Gemmel truly shines, you can feel the battle around you as the nadir hordes clash, time and time again with the Drenai soldiers time and time again, and you can feel the sword strokes, hear the bones crunch and see the carnage. It's on par with Robert E Howard. This gem is flawed, however, Rek, who is initially interesting, seems to falter towards the end, his original cowardly personality is overshadowed by his heroics and never mentioned again, it seemed that about halfway through the book Gemmel forgot the original concept of the character and changed him from a hero with potential to a generic, archetype hero, who acts the hero because he is the hero, it's incredibly disappointing. Then there's the problems with pacing in Legend it feels as though everything of interest is jammed into the second half and I personally, struggled to plough through the dreary first half as there seemed to be little to motivate me to continue other than the prospect of Dros Delnoch. Despite this, nothing takes away from the sheer excellence of the characters and the utter brilliance of the battles, making Legend a strong debut from one of fantasy's greatest authors.
Final verdict: 8/10 an astonishing heroic fantasy with great characters and stunning battle scenes. A fantasy that lives up to its namesake.