Monday, July 7, 2014

Book Review: Legend

Book Review: 'Legend' by David Gemmell

4 / 5 Stars

This Del Rey Books edition (345 pp) of ‘Legend’ was published in November, 1994. The cover artwork is by Mark Harrison.

The British writer David Gemmell (1948 – 2006) was a prolific writer of fantasy literature, with 31 books to his credit. ‘Legend’ (1984) was his first book; it became the first volume in what would come to be known as the ‘Drenai’ series, which grew to 11 books.

The story’s premise is simple and straightforward: a half-million strong horde of Mongol-type barbarians called the Nadir are intent on invading the peaceful lands of the Drenai Empire. The sole obstacle to their advance is the fortress of Dos Delnoch, a ‘Helms Deep’ -style construction
designed to withstand a lengthy siege, built with multiple walls, gates, and redoubts.

Abalayn, the inept ruler of the Drenai, has neglected his armies, and as a result, only 10,000 men are available to hold the fortress. As the novel opens, Rek, a kind of less-heroic analogue to Strider / Aragorn, is debating whether to join the defenders and face certain death in a hopeless cause, or to simply light out for foreign territories and a safer existence.

In the course of making a decision to join the defense, he is influenced by the knowledge that Druss (the ‘Legend’ of the book’s title) has himself decided to come out of retirement to fight at Dos Delnoch.

Despite being in his 60s, Druss remains the match of any fighter half his age. Not only is Druss possessed of herculean strength and stamina, but when equipped with his axe ‘Snaga’ (unashamedly modeled on Elric of Melnibone’s magic sword ‘Stormbringer’), Druss is the combat equivalent of a score of fighting men. 

As the opening chapters unfold....and continue unfolding.....the cast of characters, heroes and villains, is assembled and set on their paths to Dos Delnoch.

Will Rek, Druss, and other heroes (including several lady warriors) succeed in holding off the Nadir masses long enough for the Drenai to field an army to come to their rescue ? Or will they fall to the last man and woman, and leave their homeland exposed to destruction ?

While it is virtually impossible to look at any store’s shelving of new or used sf and fantasy paperbacks and not see at least one entry from Gemmell, up until now I have not read any of Gemmell’s works; ‘Legend’ was my first introduction to his writing.

‘Legend’ is not perfect, but it’s decent heroic fantasy, and capable first novel. 

Needless to say the narrative takes its time arriving at the siege around which the plot is centered – it’s not until page 218 (!) that the fighting is joined between Nadir and Drenai, by which time my patience was starting to be tried.

The siege narrative itself is layered with frequent expository passages, in which the various characters ponder their fates and reasons for facing death (or dishonor), deep emotional interludes between lovers, morale-boosting speeches by Druss, superficial jests and jokes that cover up the deep-seated fear gripping each and every combatant, etc.

But the novel avoids a contrived ending, and left me willing to try the additional entries in the ‘Drenai’ saga.

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