FSFH Book Review

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Abnett, Dan
Adams, Douglas
Aguirre-Sacasa, Roberto
Allen, Roger MacBride
Allie, Scott
Allston, Aaron
Anderson, Kevin J.
Barclay, James
Barnes, Steven
Baum, L. Frank
Bear, Greg
Bendis, Brian Michael
Bischoff, David
Bisson, Terry
Blackman, Haden
Bova, Ben
Bowen, Carl
Brooks, Terry
Canavan, Trudi
Card, Orson Scott
Chadwick, Paul
Clarke, Arthur C.
Clarke, Susanna
Clemens, James
Collins, Paul
Crichton, Michael
Crispin, A. C.
Cunningham, Elaine
Daley, Brian
David, Peter
DeMatteis, J. M.
Denning, Troy
Dick, Philip K.
Dickens, Charles
Dietz, William C.
Dixon, Chuck
Donaldson, Stephen
Eddings, David
Edginton, Ian
Elrod, P. N.
Erikson, Steven
Feist, Raymond E.
Foster, Alan Dean
Fraction, Matt
Furman, Simon
Gaiman, Neil
Gemmell, David A.
Gerber, Michael
Gibbons, Dave
Golden, Christopher
Goodkind, Terry
Goodwin, Archie
Graham, Mitchell
Grant, Alan
Green, Jonathan
Green, Laurence
Guggenheim, Marc
Hagberg, David
Hambly, Barbara
Hamilton, Laurell K.
Hand, Elizabeth
Harras, Bob
Harrison, Mick
Heinlein, Robert A.
Herbert, Frank
Herbert, James
Hine, David
Hobb, Robin
Howard, Robert E.
Jacques, Brian
James, Charlie Hamilton
Jenkins, Paul
Jeter, K. W.
Johns, Geoff
Jones, J. V.
Jordan, Robert
Jurgens, Dan
Karpyshyn, Drew
Kennedy, Mike
Kerr, Katharine
Keyes, Greg
King, Stephen
King, William
Knaak, Richard A.
Kube-McDowell, Michael P.
Lawhead, Stephen
Layman, John
Le Guin, Ursula K.
Lewis, C. S.
Lieberman, A. J.
Loeb, Jeph
Lorey, Dean
Lowder, James
Luceno, James
Lumley, Brian
Macan, Darko
Manning, Russ
Martin, George R. R.
Marz, Ron
Matheson, Richard
McCaffrey, Anne
McIntosh, Neil
McIntyre, Vonda
Michelinie, David
Millar, Mark
Miller, John Jackson
Miller, Karen
Milligan, Peter
Moench, Doug
Moesta, Rebecca
Moore, Alan
Nicholls, Stan
Nicieza, Fabian
Nylund, Eric
O'Neil, Dennis
Ostrander, John
Paolini, Christopher
Perry, S. D.
Perry, Steve
Pratchett, Terry
Pullman, Philip
Quinn, David
Reaves, Michael
Reed, A. W.
Reed, Brian
Rice, Anne
Richardson, Nancy
Roberts, Adam
Rowe, Matthew
Rowling, J. K.
Rubio, Kevin
Rusch, Kristine Kathryn
Salvatore, R.A.
Shelley, Mary
Shultz, Mark
Simone, Gail
Simonson, Louise
Simonson, Walter
Smith, L. Neil
Spurrier, Simon
Stackpole, Michael A.
Stevenson, Robert Louis
Stewart, Sean
Stoker, Bram
Stover, Matthew
Straczynski, J. Michael
Stradley, Randy
Strnad, Jan
Sutcliff, Rosemary
Tolkien, J.R.R.
Traviss, Karen
Truman, Tim
Turtledove, Harry
Tyers, Kathy
van Belkom, Edo
Veitch, Tom
Wagner, John
Watson, Jude
Whitman, John
Williams, Sean
Williams, Tad
Williams, Walter Jon
Windham, Ryder
Wolverton, Dave
Woodring, Jim
Wurts, Janny
Yeovil, Jack
Zahn, Timothy
Collaborations A - F
Collaborations G - M
Collaborations N - R
Collaborations S
Collaborations T - Z
Anthologies A - R
Anthologies S
Anthologies T - Z
Still to come
Reviewing Literature
The Books of David A. Gemmell

David A. Gemmell's first novel, 'Legend', was published in 1984 and he has since created the hugely popular Drenai and Rigante series', as well as several other short series' and individual novels.  Well known for his creation of powerful but flawed heroes, Gemmell lived in East Sussex until his death in 2006.
Average Review Score: 4.4 out of 5

Dark Moon
This book, one of Gemmell's stand-alone novels, is an entertaining and compelling fantasy.  In the story, one man's obsession with the magical Eldarin Pearl causes ancient bonds to be broken and the brutal and sadistic Daroth to be unleashed upon the world after millennia of imprisonment.  Beginning quietly, with whispers of this new threat, the story progresses into a battle for the very survival of the human race.  The three main characters are all that you could want out of a band of heroes.  Duvodas is gifted with powerful magic and is a consumate pacifist, until his beloved is murdered.  Karis is a brilliant warrior and strategist and is sexual, without being a 2D fantasy dominatrix type.  Finally, there is Tarantio, a master-swordsman who shares his mind with a demonic alter-ego called Dace.  A lot of fun to read and emotional too, this book got me hooked on Gemmell.
5 out of 5
Sword In The Storm
The first novel in the Rigante series, 'Sword In The Storm' introduces us to the Rigante people; honourable, fierce and gifted with the ability to feed the magic of the world.  Among these people is born Connavar, the Sword in the Storm, a youth with great potential marred by his tendency to be ruled by his passions.  It is Gemmell's strongest talent (although also his much repeated one) that he is able to create wonderfully endearing characters who have a duality to them which tears them apart and Connavar is the prime example.  Mixing Celtic mythology, with a bit of heroic fantasy and a lump of pseudo-history is a winning combination and makes for a great read.  Two main faults, however, are the fact that the book builds towards a confrontation with the armies of Stone, but ends before it actually happens.  Most frustrating.  The other problem is the name Stone itself.  You'd think that if he was going to use a historical basis (ie Rome), Gemmell would at least avoid such obvious alliteration.
5 out of 5
'I was a child when I saw him last, a scrawny straw-haired boy, living in the highlands.'
Midnight Falcon
The second Rigante novel, this one follows Connavar's bastard son Bane.  Bane is shunned and hated by all but a few of the Rigante and eagerly travels into the territory of Stone to learn to become a gladiator.  He is given added incentive when the murder of his beloved places him on a quest for vengeance.  Bane, as a character isn't too far removed from Connavar, albeit a fair bit more bitter, but this book has the benefit of some very good new characters, foremost being Rage.  The story progresses well from the simple Rigante life, to brutal and enthralling gladiatorial combat and finally to Bane's acceptance of his birthright as the forces of Stone march against the Rigante.  The blatant historical parallel (Stone=Rome, Jasaray=Julius Caesar, Keltoi=Celts) still troubles me, but that fault is balanced by the brilliant scene involving Bane, Rage, Jasaray and a tiger in a hedge maze.  Easily equal to it's predecessor, but potentially a little too similar for some people's liking.
5 out of 5
'Parax the Hunter had always despised vanity in others.'
The third Rigante novel and centuries have passed since 'Midnight Falcon'.  The Rigante have been conquered and are racially opressed by the arrogant Varlish.  This novel tackles many issues not dealt with in the other books, racism, religious corruption and the concept of bigots holding show-trials that is all too prevalent in our own history.  The main character, Kaelin Ring, is once again a bit of a Connavar rip-off, being a heroic and passionate youth with a much darker side.  However, it is the supporting characters, such as Maev Ring, Alterith Shaddler, Chain Shada and (in particular) Jaim Grymauch, that gives this book it's unique edge.  The main body of the story is fairly familiar territory, but the trial of Maev Ring is a beautiful piece of drama and Grymauch's last scene is heart-rending and brilliant.
4 out of 5
'The sun was setting and Lanovar sat slumped against the stone, the last of the sunlight bathing him in gold.'
The fourth and final Rigante novel.  Set just a few years on from 'Ravenheart', the lands south of the Rigante territory are wracked by civil war.  Once again, Gemmell's historical cloning (in this case the English Civil War) sits a bit uneasily with me, but there we go.  As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Gemmell has made a radical departure from his previous stories, as he begins to introduce one of the big fantasy cliches, a Dark Lord.  This adds another level of supernatural tension to the Rigante series, but I felt it was unnecessary.  The basic premise of this book is duality, however.  The duality of Gemmell's main characters recurs, but the duality of the other characters also emerges as Huntsekker (the assassin!) shows his more gentle side, a pair of honourless thieves become heroes, the evil Moidart begins to show compassion (a shocker for those who've read 'Ravenheart') and the Stormrider himself becomes more like the father he always despised.  A slightly disappointing end to a very good series, but well written for all that.
4 out of 5
'The night sky was lit by flames, and black smoke swirled across the valley as the town of Shelsans continued to burn.'
A prequel to 'Legend', set something like a century before that book.  The Drenai are a hunted people, resisting in small forces against an overwhelming foe who has scoured their lands and defeated their armies.  The main character amid this chaos is Waylander, an assassin who is hated by the Drenai for killing their king.  The overall basis of this book is redemption, specifically Waylander's but also of characters like the assassins Cadoras and Durmast or the monstrous Kai.  This forms an emotional core to which the reader can cling even when the characters are at their most cruel and violent.  A large part of this book is taken up by a siege in which the defenders face overwhelming odds.  Yes, this is overly similar to the events of 'Legend', but the author writes so compellingly about the grim determination and hopeless courage of the besieged that you may well forgive him the repetition.  There's lots of interesting foreshadowing in this book too, be it the story of the Armour of Bronze, the founding of Dros Delnoch or the revelations about how the priesthood of the Thirty originally came into being.  Ultimately your enjoyment of this book will come down to your opinion of Waylander as a character and, personally, I felt him to be a well-written anti-hero of the type that Gemmell later perfected in the Rigante books.
4 out of 5
'The monster watched from the shadows as the armed men, torches aloft, entered the darkness of the mountain.'
Waylander II: In The Realm Of The Wolf
Years after the events of 'Waylander' the assassin and his adopted daughter Miriel are living a quiet life in the mountains when assassins seek them out.  Soon, however, Waylander and Miriel gain allies in the form of the weathered gladiator Angel, the master swordsman Senta and the Nadir hunter Belash.  Somewhat predictably, the story leads to a dramatic siege in which Miriel, Angel, Senta and Belash help to defend a tribe of Nadir from extermination.  Meanwhile, Waylander set off alone to hunt down their true enemy, the sorcerer Zhu Chao.  Something I always enjoy in fantasy stories are heroes who aren't plagued by doubt and inadequacy and Waylander and Angel are execellent examples of these seemingly invincible warriors (as is Druss the Legend).  One element of this book which suprised me with it's quality was the sexual awakening of Miriel, which is handled very subtly and is never gratuitous.  This book is fairly predictable and familiar, but it is never less than enjoyable despite that.
4 out of 5
'The man called Angel sat quietly in the corner of the tavern, his huge gnarled hands cupped around the goblet of mulled wine, his scarred features hidden by a black hood.'
Hero In The Shadows
A Drenai novel and the conclusion of Waylander's story.  The former assassin has moved far from the Drenai lands and has become a wealthy and respected merchant known as the Grey Man.  However, demon-summoning sorcerers have set their sights on his land and Waylander is reluctantly forced into the role of hero once more, in order to defend those under his protection.  Fighting with him are a skilled young warrior girl, a shape-shifting priestess, a master swordsman and a foolish but courageous ditch-digger.  I found this book to be much better written than the previous two Waylander books, having greater depth and subtlety.  I also enjoyed it's exploration of the grey areas between hero and villain in which Waylander walks.  Only two things bothered me about this book, the first simply being that the book's ending creates a paradox within the series' continuity (that sort of thing just bugs me).  The second thing is more significant and it is that the big evil dude, Daresh Karany, dies in exactly the same way as the big evil dude of the previous book, as if Gemmell had forgotten he'd already written that scene once.  Overall this is a deeply enjoyable book which illustrates the refining of the author's skill since last he wrote a story of the Slayer.
5 out of 5
'Mercenary captain Camran Osir reined in his mount at the crest of the hill and swung in the saddle to stare back down the forest trail.'
The First Chronicles Of Druss The Legend
This Drenai book does exactly what it says on the tin.  It's the story of a simple woodsman, disliked and plagued by rage, who sets off on a quest to rescue the only person who every truly understood him, his wife Rowena.  The woodsman is, of course, Druss.  I enjoyed the way that from the start he has the strength and the instincts he needs, but it is his interactions with the other characters that allows him to control his temper and fight skillfully.  As Druss travels he is sidetracked into numerous violent encounters, be it pit fighting or being an Emperor's champion, that establish him as a living legend.  This means that the overall plot lacks cohesion, but Gemmell writes as well as ever and perhaps it's best to think of the book as a series of linked adventures.  One thing that I really liked was that the author gives us a lengthy epilogue, which skips ahead a couple of decades.  This ending shows how Druss begins to become the weary old warrior we see in 'Legend', but also shows that he's got what it takes to win another famous victory.  In a place called Skeln Pass.
4 out of 5
'Screened by the undergrowth he knelt by the trail, dark eyes scanning the boulders ahead of him and the trees beyond.'
White Wolf
A Drenai novel and book one of The Damned subseries.  The book begins in a land plagued by war and civil unrest, wherein a priest reveals himself to be the long-missing warrior Skilgannon the Damned.  Skilgannon is another brilliant creation of Gemmell's having that deadly confidence of such characters as Wayland and Druss, this time tempered by his past as a mass-murdering general and royal consort.  I very much enjoyed reading the flashbacks to his past and the way in which the author slowly reveals that it is not as clear cut as we may have first thought.  Skilgannon soon finds himself embroiled in a hopeless quest to rescue a kidnapped child.  This is fairly standard Gemmell fare, but I loved the fact that only the presence of one man is enough to sway Skilgannon onto the path of the hero; and that one man is the ageing Druss the Legend.  The interplay between these two potent characters is a delight to read, as they come to understand one another on a fundamental level.  This book is truly David Gemmell at his best, providing a story full of sorcery, violence, courage and moral ambiguity.
5 out of 5
'Caphas the merchant was frightened as the stranger approached his campfire in the woods to the north of the capital.'
The Legend Of Deathwalker
On the battlements of Dros Delnoch, amid the events of 'Legend' Gemmell returns us to the world of the Drenai and to the life of Druss the Legend.  Druss tells the tale of how he earned the name Deathwalker as well as the respect of the Nadir thirty years before.  The plot revolves around the Nadir named Talisman who seeks two magical jewels which will bring about the age of the Uniter, destined to gather the Nadir into one people.  However, opposed to Talisman is a sadistic minister, a bigoted general and the fierce army of Gulgothir.  The story is typically Gemmell; with bonds of brotherhood forged in battle, evil sadistic villains and, of course, a hopeless siege.  Whilst this repetition of ideas used in his other books works in an if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it sort of way, it still might damage the overall impact of the story.  However, what makes this book worth the read is, as ever, Druss himself.  Amid complex characters like the coward-hero Sieben and Talisman's dilemma between duty and love, Druss stands out.  He is a man for whom the right thing is the only option, regardless of how hard it might be to do, and for whom honour is the highest virtue.  Druss is the sort of man we all wish we were and all wish we knew and, as such, carries this already good book on his broad shoulders.  There is also typically-Gemmell tragic moment to the book when, after Druss has told his tale, it is revealed that the young warrior he was recounting it to has died.
4 out of 5
'The moon hung like a sickle blade over Dros Delnoch and Pellin stood quietly staring down at the Nadir camp in the lunar light below.'
The first book (albeit not chronologically) of the Drenai series.  Sieges, in which the heroic defenders face down overwhelming odds, are the bread and butter of epic fantasy, so with his first novel Gemmell gives us just that.  The immense Nadir army is moving towards the Drenai fortress of Dros Delnoch and the aging hero Druss the Legend has but a short amount of time to turn the weak and frightened defenders into warriors.  The name of the book is incredibly appropriate, because rather than simply writing a fantasy novel, Gemmell endeavours to write a story of legend and he largely succeeds.  There is a wonderful camp-fire storytelling quality to the story which is an interesting counterpoint to the fact that the characters in it all talk dismissively of the stories men tell about war.  The author has a strong talent for creating larger than life heroes, whose exploits do defy belief but who it is so easy to fall in behind as their story progresses; such is Druss.  Overall this is an enjoyable read for those (like myself) who enjoy the old stories about heroes standing their ground in the face of death.  There are downsides, however.  The first is that I felt Regnak and Virae's love story was more than a little rushed at first.  One minute they're awkward strangers, the next they're having sex and by the time they wake up the next day they're planning their life together.  The other major flaw is the convenience of the later events of the story.  In a story about impossible odds, you expect (demand, in fact!) a deus ex machina at the end to help the main characters overcome those odds, but FOUR?  The well timed arrival of the Sathuli I can accept and, despite being all too convenient, I can accept the Nadir having to withdraw.  However, Virae's return from the grave and the ghostly Druss and the Thirty were just too far-fetched to stand as they are and Gemmell offers us no real explanation of how these events came about.  So, not a perfect book, but still a good one.
4 out of 5
'The Drenai herald waited nervously outside the great doors of the throne room, flanked by two Nadir guards who stared ahead, slanted eyes fixed on the bronze eagle emblazoned on the dark wood.'

If you enjoyed Gemmell:
Fans of the Rigante novels may well enjoy Caiseal Mor's The Watchers Trilogy, which also deals with Celtic and Gaelic mythology.

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