The Drenai Saga

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Legend by David Gemmell

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A popular writer in the UK for years, David Gemmell is becoming acclaimed in the US also. Del Rey has been publishing his new works and republishing some of his old works from the 1980’s. Legend is one of his early efforts and is not your run of the mill fantasy novel. It is quite engaging and one of the best novels I have read this year.

Druss the Ax is the type of warrior that is a legend in his own time. Druss has been fighting all his life and was instrumental in turning the tide of many battles in the defense of the Drenai people. But Druss is now fighting the one battle he cannot win…he is getting old.

Druss retired to an estate in the mountains to await old age and death. But barbarians from the north once again threaten the Drenai people. The Drenai king is weak and inept and has let his armies dwindle to an inadequate force. Now 250,000 barbarians are marching on the fortress of Dros Delnoch, which is badly undermanned. If this fortress falls, the barbarian hordes will sweep into Drenai and pillage the land. Druss reluctantly comes out of retirement to fight in one last battle to defend Dros Delnoch. Everyone says the battle is hopeless. But Druss has been in thousands of hopeless battles before. Can this hero rise to the occasion one last time to once again be the salvation of his people?

There is very little magic and sorcery in this fantasy novel. The main focus is on the courage and strength of ordinary soldiers asked to perform an extraordinary feat. There will be no sudden magical surprises to turn the tide of battle at the end. Only pluck, grit, luck and vicious hand-to-hand combat will turn the tide of battle at Dros Delnoch. The characters Gemmell creates are earthy, tough and very believable. Prince Valiant looks like a sissy compared to Druss and his compatriots. Druss is a man you would have been proud to know and someone you would risk your life to defend. You know from the start that the good guys here are doomed (10,000 defenders vs. 250,000 barbarians), but the conclusion of the novel is as satisfying as it is unexpected. Bravo, Mr. Gemmell for bringing back the true heroic fantasy novel!

Reviewed by Alan

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The King Beyond the Gate by David Gemmell

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This novel is a sequel to Legend, but takes place 150 years after the action in Legend. Gemmell attempts to recreate the same mood (a stirring heroic fantasy novel) that he created in Legend, but he falls a bit short of the mark this time.

Times have changed since Druss the Legend and his stalwart compatriots defended Dros Delnoch from the barbarian hordes. Now the Drenai people are led by a mad emperor who is viciously oppressing his own people. Using ancient arcane technologies that his wizards uncovered, he has created the Joinings…creatures that are half-man, half-beast and all vicious. With the Joinings at his command, throwing off his mantle of tyranny seems unlikely.

But Tenaka Khan was descended from legendary heroes. He sees the abomination that the Drenai nation has become and has vowed to redeem his people. But he is a half-breed, despised by the Drenai people and the barbarian hordes alike. Starting with a handful of bold and daring friends, Tenaka must somehow recruit an army and defeat the seemingly unstoppable forces of the emperor.

Once again, Gemmell creates some fascinating characters. They are just as likable and heroic as in Legend. The Joinings are inventive, scary foes. The different pieces of the plot are interesting and held my attention, unfortunately, the book seems hurried to an unnatural conclusion. I’m usually against long novels, but this one would have been well served had it been about 100 pages longer. Also, the Joinings were interesting monsters, but Gemmell didn’t do much with them since he focused so much of the narrative on fleshing out the heroes. We all like to read about heroic deeds, but the deeds seem much more heroic when the villains’ evil machinations are more thoroughly explored. Although, not as good as Legend, The King Beyond the Gate still held my interest enough that I would consider reading the next novel in the series.

Reviewed by Alan

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Waylander by David Gemmell

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Drenai is under siege again by foreign invaders. In an effort to destabilize the government, the general of the invading armies seeks to slay the Drenai King. The assassin hired for the job is Waylander. Once a mild-mannered farmer, Waylander is now a master assassin after the brutal killing of his family. After killing the king, Waylander is betrayed by his employer who sends the mysterious Black Brotherhood to dispatch Waylander. The brotherhood is a wily sect of priests who will stop at nothing to see Waylander dead. While on the run, Waylander is approached by a mysterious old man and is informed that he is the only hope of the Drenai people. Waylander must venture into a hostile foreign land and retrieve the legendary Armor of Bronze. Then he must transport it hundreds of miles through enemy held territory to the armies of the Drenai. Only with a general wearing the Armor will the Drenai people be able to repel the invaders. Clearly, this is a suicide mission, which no sane man would undertake. However, Waylander can hardly refuse the request since the old man is the murdered king’s father!

Gemmell sticks to his familiar formula in continuing his Drenai saga. One man, supported by brave heroes and soldiers, takes on impossible odds to save the Drenai people. While this scenario is effective in the first few Drenai novels, it begins to wear a bit thin here. The character development of Waylander is rich and deep, but the supporting characters are not fleshed out and seem as mere cardboard cut-outs to prop up the obvious plot. While I found it easy to understand and relate to Waylander, the story could have been improved by providing more depth to the supporting characters.

Although the plot was engaging, with plenty of action and military sequences, it suffered from a common problem in many of Gemmell’s books. He again rushes to a conclusion in the last forty pages of the book. This left me feeling a bit unsatisfied…the same feeling I would have while enjoying a five course meal, but being forced to eat the last two courses in three minutes. My enjoyment of the story would have been enhanced had Gemmell invested another hundred pages in the plot instead of hurrying towards an overly simplistic ending. Despite this shortcoming, the first three-quarters of the plot was quite good and certainly held my interest.

Gemmell’s latest book in this series again focuses on the character of Waylander (which is why I read this book). Gemmell continues to be a very popular author in the UK and his popularity is spreading in the US. Since this was perhaps just a stumble on Gemmell’s part (perhaps rushing to hit a deadline), I will read the latest novel in the Drenai series since I have enjoyed the previous volumes.

Reviewed by Alan

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