Fantasy novels hardly ever let you down. The rich, expansive world woven from the strands of the author's imagination, the super sophisticated manner of speech (almost like Yoda but far less cryptic), and the larger-than-life yet still relatable characters with names you can't really pronounce, these all are what I consider the key elements of any great fantasy series. David Gemmell was a genius in this field, brandishing his pen--or keyboard, what have you--in all its heroic glory. After falling in love with the magical storytelling in his "Troy" series, I knew my experiences reading Mr. Gemmell's works weren't over. Last week, I was feeling in the mood for some full-blown fantasy, complete with heroes and wars and such, and picked up "Legend"--and boy, I sure wasn't disappointed!
Dros Delnoch is preparing for a siege, and every single soldier doesn't have any illusions of the outcome: the walls will fall. It's only a matter of how long they can hold out against the rapidly approaching Nadir army. Only one man can boost the spirits of the defenders and show the attackers that they're facing a force to reckon with: Druss, a true hero who has become a legend with his bravery and mighty fighting prowess. Now, though, he is old and tired, but is determined to die with his axe Snaga in his hand. With him stands Regnak, a romantic coward who finds himself going to Dros Delnoch for his love of Virae, the Earl of Delnoch's ferocious daughter. Together, they will fight against overwhelming odds, even in the face of death, sorrow and loss.
As always, Mr. Gemmell's characters pretty much make the story. Each and every one of the characters, no matter how minor they are, add to the heroism that is so central to "Legend". For example, Gan Orrin, who lacked his own men's respect, showcases his bravery by joining in on the soldiers' vigorous training, and, though he is hardly physically up to par with the others, perseveres until the very end. Through characters like Orrin and Rek (which is short for Regnak), Mr. Gemmell shows that the most ordinary of men can become legendary heroes.
I actually found that pretty much all the characters were in some way likable, even Ulric, the warleader of the Nadir, who was meant to be the antagonist of the novel. I particularly liked Bowman, whose wit and humour that came with being an outlaw was masterfully coupled with the sense of honour he possessed. Mr. Gemmell presents his reader with a wide range of characters--from the Yoda-like Vintar (toldja the flowery language came from somewhere!) to the seductive yet troubled Caessa--all of whom make readers invested and create the world we see in "Legend".
And this is where one of my not-so-good points come in. One of the other key elements in any fantasy novel is the world. In "Legend", however, readers are pretty much confined for the most part to Dos Delnoch, which, to my imagination, is comprised of walls and walls and more walls. I think I would've felt the Drenai nationalistic pride more if I'd actually seen more of the people and the places they lived in. I also wish I'd seen more than just walls. There's great potential for a fantastic, huge world that really pulls in the reader and makes him imagine that he's really there, but unfortunately it just wasn't exploited enough.
Plot-wise, the action of the battles and the temporary peace-times were well-balanced. I was really able to see the development of different relationships amongst the characters during the latter, and see the sword-singing, blood-roaring heat of the fighting. This is probably just me, since I'm sort of a romantic, but I just wish there'd been a little more focus on the romance in the story rather than fights, wars and battles, and then more fights, wars and battles. I think the "Troy" series did a really good job in this aspect--I still swoon over the crazy but incredibly beautiful romance between Helikaon and Andromache! But I digress. Maybe I'll write a separate review for "Lord of the Silver Bow". It's that amazing!
Since "Legend" was Mr. Gemmell's first novel, the storytelling is not as smooth and flowing, but is still effective in presenting to the readers the great characters and the events of the story. Trust me, it only gets better from here!
Overall, I enjoyed "Legend", and it really is a great heroic fantasy novel. What made it all the more interesting was when I was reading about David Gemmell, and learned that he wrote this novel when he was being diagnosed with cancer. Though I can't say whether the battle between the Drenai and the Nadir was a metaphorical for his fight with cancer, the knowledge of this made it all the more poignant. I would definitely check out Mr. Gemmell's other works--it will stay with you for years.