March 15, 2007
Book Review: Legend by David Gemmell
It is said that good authors only become great authors after they die. Whether or not this is true, I do know that I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a great fantasy author only after his death. David Gemmell had been writing since I was four, and yet for all my broad spectrum reading of fantasy and sci-fi, I had never come across him. Perhaps he hadnít made it across the pond from Britain, or the library didnít carry it, but for some reason I never was introduced to Gemmellís masterpiece Legend.
Legend is about how legends are made. It describes how the real becomes mythical and the mundane extraordinary. It is a tale of motivations and mistakes, triumph and loss. Legend relates the story of Dros Delnoch, a castle fortress. The fortress has become grossly undermanned and the northern hordes are soon to lie right on its doorstep. The men who are stationed there are framers and tradesmen, not soldiers, and discipline is non-existent.
This news reaches several, and Druss, Rek, Virae, and the Thirty led by Serbitar step into the breach and lead. Druss is an old man, a legend for battles fought fifteen years ago against impossible odds. He seeks to conquer death, not by avoiding it, but by not allowing it to rule him. Rek is rogue and a coward, man born to leadership although he knows it not. Virae is a warrior woman who seeks only love and to be loved. Serbitar the albino lead the priesthood of the thirty, who, with their gift of foresight see their deaths at Dros Delnoch.
The novel is an epic in all its scope. Gemmell has a gift for making heroes out of mundane people and the subplots, characterization, and short vignettes of characters unrelated to the main story all show this. Heroism, in Legend, takes many forms, is seen in many people. Even the evil conqueror bent on taking Dros Delnoch is a hero not only to his own people, but to the people of Dros Delnoch as well. They see his vision for a new empire to replace their own failing one, and see glimpses the glories of their own past.
This was Gemmellís first book, and although well written, does suffer some of the typical first books problems. While the characters are well rounded, at times some of their motivations may seem arbitrary (such as when Rek and Virae marry, it assumes that love at first sight is a truism) but these are easily put aside as the story grows.
Some elements are predictable fantasy fare. When the Rek conquers the Sathuli and they later return to help even though great enmity exists between the two races of Drenai and Sathuli, this has been done before. But other elements are wholly new. A poor leader being remade into a great one is not typical. The heroes do not replace the original leader, but rather bolster him and allow him to do what he does best, thereby turning a weak man into a hero as well. The heroesí know their limitations and do not attempt to transgress them. The priesthood of the thirty is also an interesting concept, which only a reading of the book can really explain. Besides, why give the entire book away?
I highly recommend this book. The first few chapters are not slow, but are not really connected with the story. Youíll need to get through three or four chapters of interesting material before the real thrust of the story is apparent. Itís all worth it though. You will like this book. Unfortunately, Gemmell's lexicon is complete since his death last year, but I will eagerly anticpate my next opportunity to purchase the next in the Drenai Tales.