Thursday, 27 November 2008
From my bookshelf... ‘Legend’ (David Gemmell)
Reading ‘Ravensoul’ the other day, scroll down the page for my review, reminded me of all the David Gemmell books sat on my shelf that haven’t been read for a long time now. It’s not surprising I made the link as James Barclay has mentioned, on his forum, that ‘Ravensoul’ was written in part homage to Gemmell and his work.
There’s a lot to choose from if you’ve never read anything by David Gemmell and haven’t a clue where to start. The best place to start though, as far as I’m concerned, is right at the beginning with the book that kicked off his writing career. ‘Legend’...
Here’s the Amazon blurb,
The Legend Druss, Captain of the Axe: the stories of his life were told everywhere. Instead of the wealth and fame he could have claimed, he had chosen a mountain lair, high in the lonely country bordering on the clouds. There the grizzled old warrior kept company with snow leopards and awaited his old enemy death. The Fortress Mighty Dros Delnoch, protected by six outer walls, the only route by which an army could pass through the mountains. It was the stronghold of the Drenai empire. And now it was the last battleground, for all else had fallen before the Nadir hordes. And hope rested on the skills of that one old man...
I first came across ‘Legend’ when I was about fourteen and on one of the many rainy weekends in a caravan that we went on as a family (there’s a big ‘caravanning rant’ building up right now but that’s a topic for another blog I think!) I had about 30p left of my holiday money and a second hand bookshop was selling ‘Legend’ for... you guessed it :o)
‘Legend’ kept me going for the rest of the weekend and, as it turned out, most of my teens as well.
‘Legend’ was the fantasy novel that first introduced me to the notion that true heroism really is about being scared to death but going out there anyway and doing what you have to do. While Druss is a larger than life character who dominates the page, it’s the supporting characters that are more interesting in this regard. We have men who live under the shadow of their fathers, men who have never swung a sword in anger and men who are scared of fear itself; all of them manage to win through their issues and do something really important over the course of the book. The message is clear if a little idealistic.
Where things get interesting though is where Gemmell looks at bravery and honour in the hearts of the enemy. Is a man any the less a hero if he is working to supplant our heroes? Is the ultimate sacrifice somehow tarnished if it’s made by an enemy? I don’t think so and the signs are that Gemmell didn’t think so either. Anyone can earn redemption.
Druss, the main character, offers an interesting look at what a hero becomes as he gets older. The mind is willing but the body isn’t quite up to snuff these days. Stamina is an issue and arthritis makes swinging that axe a lot more difficult than it used to be. All you’ve got left is a reputation that makes men hesitate when facing you and you have to make use of that split second to get a killing blow in first. Druss is anyone who has ever been frustrated by the onset of age but decided not to let it stop them. He does the right thing as well, choosing to give up a life of relative peace on the strength of a promise made a long time ago.
On top of all this, ‘Legend’ is a tale that gripped me as a teenager and one that still does even now. It’s a ‘siege tale’ where the fate of two nations hang on not just the men fighting but also on magic cast, poison, promises and the actions of men a whole continent away from the action. The outcome may never be in doubt but it hangs on a knife edge just enough of the time to keep things interesting.
The citadel of Dros Delnoch has six walls and Gemmell takes his readers through a blow by blow battle for each one of them. The action is relentless as well as extremely hard hitting. None of this ‘he ran him through with his sword’ for Gemmell, warfare is a dirty business and we are shown exactly what this means for the people who must fight. There are body parts flying all over the place, just the thing for the bloodthirsty teenager that I was (What? People annoyed me...) and still just the thing for the person that I am today (What? People still annoy me...)
Fantasy literature has moved on a lot since ‘Legend’ was published (1984) but it remains a book that’s worth going back to for a re-read. The message might be coming across a little too loudly but the story itself is first rate.