by David Gemmell
Publisher: Del Rey (October 1, 1994)
Druss, Captain of the Axe, is a Legend within the Drenai Empire. He has stood against armies, won thousands of battles, some more hopeless than others. He has journeyed the length and breadth of the world to rescue the one love of his life. The Nadir tribesmen call him Deathwalker, and believe him a spirit of death itself.
He’s also sixty years old, has arthritis and a bum knee.
Thus, more or less, begins Legend, David Gemmell’s seminal work of fantasy which, despite being a best-seller and well respected title for years, I had never given much serious thought. I once again blame cover art, which makes the book look like another one of hundreds of schlock fantasy novels with all the literary merit of a toilet paper roll. Despite appearances, however, it’s a fantastic book.
The story of Legend takes place around the fortress city of
Druss is one of the main characters of the novel, but he’s hardly the only one. Several others flit in and out of the story, and while many of them are essentially archetypes, they are generally well-written and interesting archetypes, so it’s not a terrible burden to bear.
Gemmell’s writing has been compared favorably to REH’s, and I think it’s a pretty apt comparison. Both have a similar evocative style that glosses over the details that don’t matter to the story, in favor of those who do. For all the talk of empire and nation conquering, the reader gets only the barest picture of the world beyond Dros Delnoch. For the purposes of this book, it’s the only place that really matters. The battle scenes, which are really critical in a book like this, are extremely well done: fast paced enough to be excited, vivid enough to feel real, and gruesome enough to make you appreciate the awfulness of war without overdoing it.
Gemmell apparently wrote this book shortly after discovering he was diagnosed with cancer, which makes the work both more moving, and makes it clear how much of a personal work it really is. In a lot of ways, the book is a meditation on fighting, not literally, but metaphorically. What makes a man fight? Why do some surrender, when others won’t? Why will some never surrender, even when the battle seems hopeless? Legend tackles a lot of these questions, either implicitly or explicitly. And it does it all through a brilliantly compelling narrative.
Fantastic stuff, that is totally worth the read. I will probably check out the second book in the series at some point, and perhaps Gemmell’s take on