Morningstar by David Gemmell
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Fantasy / Sword and Sorcery|
|Release Date:||September 1, 1993|
I was 21 when I read my first book by David Gemmell. I had just finished my degree in English Literature, and having spent three years reading the classics, I felt like a piece of pure escapism. While browsing Amazon White Wolf with its awesome cover leapt out at me. It was one of those light reads you plough through in a couple of days whilst still leading an active life, and honestly I can recall very little about it now. But it was an enjoyable action packed read, and I liked it enough to hunt out more by him.
Next I read Legend his debut, and one of the most loved fantasy books out there. It is also probably the fantasy book that is best suited to a big budget Hollywood adaptation and it still amazes me that no one has tried to make a 300 style film version of it. In love with the character of Druss, I then proceeded to read all of the Druss books, but after a while I felt I was simply reading the same novel again and again.
My last foray into Gemmell was his second Waylander novel, but the character of Waylander just felt like Druss all over again. A brilliant, but old warrior haunted by his past, except he used a crossbow rather than an axe. I felt I was done with Gemmell, and left it there, until a few years later when I became a regular poster on the Fantasy-Faction forum. Again and again threads would be started in honour of Gemmell, and people discussing their favourite books by him. I decided to give Gemmell a second chance, and the same book was recommended again and again, Morningstar. Seeing it in a charity bookshop one day, I splashed out and once again was engrossed in the world of David Gemmell.
So what is Morningstar, other than the name of to the award given to the best fantasy debut novel at the Legend Awards every year. Well it’s a re-imagining of the legend of Robin Hood in a fantasy world, which both is and is not Britain. A deconstruction of both what it means to be a hero and of legends themselves, as a well as a discussion on the reliability of storytellers or narrators, while at the same time being a light and enjoyable 300 pages long sword and sorcery romp.
Our “hero” is Jarek Mace, thief, outlaw and brilliant archer; so yes, basically Robin Hood. He is a rogue and scoundrel, only out to help himself, but after meeting with our narrator Odell, the magicker and bard, he finds himself becoming the reluctant symbol and leader of the resistance against both the tyrannical Angostin rulers of the highlands, and the Angostin hordes which are invading from the south. (It doesn’t take too much of an initiative leap to realize that the Angostins are the English, whilst the highlands are Scotland, and Jarek Mace the leader of the Scots!)
Whilst Jarek might not be as much as a shit as Jorge from Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns (he calls a line at rape!) he certainly is not heroic by any stretch of the imagination. He thinks nothing of leaving a friend or ally to certain death, and is motivated purely by his own self-interest. Yet the highlands are in desperate need of a hero, and Odell manipulates him into this role, and he becomes as much a legend as Robin Hood has. Gemmell cleverly challenges our conception of what a hero is, after all it has been suggested that Robin Hood, if he was a real historical figure, was nothing more than a glorified thief by many a respected historian.
The novel is cleverly framed as well by Odell as an old man telling the story to a young storyteller, and in the prologue he admits that the role of the storyteller is not to tell the truth. After all their listeners do not want the truth, they want heroes. Jarek Mace the Morningstar is simply a hero because Odell made him into a hero, both through how he manipulated him at the time, and the stories that he himself made up, told and passed on. Legends themselves are challenged by Gemmell, he makes us as readers question whether they are true tales of heroism or simply lies spun by storytellers to meet the needs of their listeners.
Having said that though the “true” telling of the story of Morningstar is an exciting story which includes vampyres, sorcery and acts of heroism, including some by Mace himself. Whatever his past and motivations might have been, he is capable of truly being a hero when needed, and perhaps that is the overall message of the story. Heroes are not perfect people, but flawed humans who are capable of acts of extreme courage. After all is it not more heroic to perform these acts even though you yourself are far from perfect? Mace turns out to not even to be the best archer in the novel!
Overall, I cannot recommend this book enough, a light and enjoyable sword and sorcery romp with some real philosophical meat behind it. A perfect introduction as well to anyone who has never read a book by one of the most beloved fantasy writers of all time, David Gemmell. R.I.P. a true legend of fantasy.