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Legend by David Gemmell

Legend by David Gemmell
Book Name: Legend
Author: David Gemmell
Publisher(s): Century
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: April 1984

Legend introduces us to a tribe called the Drenai, who feature in 12 other books by Gemmell which form The Drenai Saga. Under attack from the Nadir, all is seemingly lost, but as a menagerie of characters merge together, they become an unstoppable force defending against the sieges of the Nadir.

The initial irritation for me, as I’ve found with work by Ian Irvine, is the speed in which our main characters fall in love. I know that my generation are repeatedly told how different things were for those from older generations; house prices, the cost of fuel, wages etc., but has the notion of love also changed?

When we’re introduced to Regnak the Wanderer and Virae, no-one would picture them as star-crossed lovers as they are seemingly incompatible. Rek has not just wandering feet, but wandering eyes too, known for being a hit with the ladies and originally comments on the manliness of Virae’s appearance – not your typical damsel in distress, she’s more than capable of defending herself and cares little about maximising her appearance to attract men. Virae is ready to battle, set to show her strength, and Rek is set to run in fear. Yet not long after they’ve spent a little time together, they begin to declare vows of love and adoration. On paper, we’re not given any development of their relationship, but are shown that opposites attract. While the pair are able to bring out the best in each other, it’s a surprising jump.

Our titular legend is almost assuredly Druss, the centre of many a tale and song of battle, known as Deathwalker, an arthritic fighter whose reputation precedes him. He walks among the Drenai as the embodiment of a legend; everyone knows the stories about him. There is no doubt that he can carry himself in a fight, though some Drenai are quick to doubt and question this, given his aged appearance. The story thus deals with the concept that legends must age and eventually die but sagas about them will live far longer, inspiring others.

Through Druss, we’re shown the contrast between what people perceive as a legend, the qualities they sing about and teach their children to embody, and the very real human traits that don’t get written about; from making hard decisions in war that not all will agree with, dealing with the little details of planning a battle, to being a mere human being that can bleed and make mistakes. We see the two sides of what makes a legend; the stories that circulate, rousing spirits and hope, versus the real hard facts about a person.

As a reader I doubted Druss, believing that the stories of him were surely too good to be true, exaggerated to give children tales of a role model to aspire to. Steadily however as the tale unfolds, we’re shown a steadfast character, true to his word.

Perhaps our legend is Rek, who undergoes a transformation from a mouse running from the thought of a fight, to a man who leads an entire army. He changes from this obnoxious character, far too concerned with his appearance, to a man who sees the true value of people, falls in love, and puts his life on the line for others.

Then we have the mystical warriors, the Thirty, joining the battle both with their bodies and with their minds, fighting on a plane beyond the physical one. Their monk-like lifestyle doesn’t immediately position them as characters you’d expect to step into the foray, but they too make sacrifices for the greater good.

Legend was a captivating read, with a decent support of memorable characters that help the pace of the book and retain interest. If you prefer more complex storylines and characters of depth, then you won’t find what you’re looking for in Legend. You will however find gripping battle scenes that dominate the second half of the book, culminating in a final showdown between the opposing sides with a little twist thrown in for good measure. Both factions settle down for a nice cup of tea (perhaps not tea) and you find out that the baddie isn’t really as much of a baddie as we first thought; turns out he’s only human too.

Although seen as a standalone novel, it does make up part of the wider world Gemmell has created, with The King Beyond the Gate subtitled as ‘the sequel to Legend’.

Get rid of your doubts. Yesterday is dead. Past mistakes are like smoke in the breeze.


One Comment

  1. Great review! I agree that if you are looking for complex fantasy or intricate storylines, this ain’t the book for you. What it is though is action-packed heroic fantasy that is just on another level. I have such a sentimental attachment to this book and to David Gemmell as well since his books were such a part of my teen years and early-twenties. Thanks again for your perspective!

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