Waylander by David Gemmell
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Ebook|
|Release Date:||August 28, 1986|
David Gemmell is a name known, I am sure, to everyone who reads fantasy. If it is not, then I hope this review might convince you to pick up one of his books.
“They had begun to torture the priest when the stranger stepped from the shadow of the trees.”
The story begins with the now, but not then, archetypal hooded man. The one you’ve seen on lots of book covers over the past few years. However, Waylander was written in 1986. It predates that fascination or fashion, at least to some degree. And that first line, the one above, it leaves you with questions.
Who is the hooded man?
Why did he rescue the priest?
Why was the priest being tortured?
With that first line you are hooked into the rest of the story and the world opens up before you. The Drenai, a race of people, are at war with an invading force, the Vagrians. To make matters worse, the King is dead and the generals are not united. This is a world where humans fight humans. Gemmell has not created a world populated by dwarves, elves or other mystic races. There is magic, however, and religion – the two are intrinsically linked.
Things are desperate. The Drenai are losing. There is one hope. If a rallying point could be found, someone to get behind, a charismatic leader or a powerful symbol the Drenai might, just might, survive. Waylander is not that charismatic leader. He is not that symbol. He has no care whether the Drenai win or lose. War offers opportunity for an assassin, a killer for hire. Being alone is Waylander’s strength, but he is now the hunted not the hunter. Everyone benefits from his death. This is not the man to hang the success or failure of a war upon. Yet, it does.
The world that Gemmell creates is dark and unforgiving. It is a land where trust is hard-won and easily broken. A country where money is power and mercy is unknown. It is a land of lambs, wolves and eagles. The modern interpretation/sub-genre would be the oft over-used (and at times ill-defined) grimdark. If that is the case then an argument can be made to make Gemmell one of the founding fathers.
Waylander is told from a few perspectives. Firstly, that of the killer himself, Waylander, who spends much of the time wondering why he is trying to save the Drenai. The second, a Source priest, a religion where violence is abhorrent and death is preferred to fighting back. Third, a vain general for whom power is its own reward. And lastly, Danyal – a woman rescued by chance yet who, in this dark and dangerous world, holds her own against the hardest, darkest, of men.
Gemmell writes about real people, flawed people. There are no heroes, just people in difficult positions trying to do their best to survive and look out for friends and family. And that is where you get bravery, real bravery. The bravery where fear is right at the surface, threatening to overwhelm the character and yet still, somehow, they carry on and fight back.
Waylander moves at a good pace, there are few, if any, wasted scenes and every character is fully realised. The action is brutal, uncompromising and the reader is there with the combatants in the midst of it all. The central, titular character is the Sergio Leone western hero. Clint Eastwood would have been a good match if they had made a film of the book (at the time, that is, not now).
If you have never read any Gemmell then you need to start very soon – make your next book a Gemmell book, and starting with Waylander means you won’t go far wrong.