May 24, 2017, 04:43:14 PM

Author Topic: David Gemmell  (Read 10273 times)

Offline Funky Scarecrow

Re: David Gemmell
« Reply #15 on: July 06, 2011, 03:42:32 PM »
Nowadays, a huge number of fantasy writers are playing with the notion of what heroes and 'adventurers' really are and what sort of person you need to be to do that effectively (see George Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Sam Sykes et al), but Gemmell was one of the first to explore it deeply with his retooling of the Robin Hood myth, Morningstar.

I'd recommend that even those who've read and disliked Legend, or Waylander (by far his two most famous works to fantasy fans, which is a little unfair in some ways considering how early they were in his career) give Morningstar a try. A genuinely fascinating novel.
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Offline Overlord

Re: David Gemmell
« Reply #16 on: July 13, 2011, 10:09:18 AM »
On my first read of Legend, have to say I'm impressed with the imagery and atmosphere Gemmell creates - really, really great.
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Editor: Fantasy-Faction Anthology (Aug 2014)
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Offline Nighteyes

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Re: David Gemmell
« Reply #17 on: July 13, 2011, 01:50:22 PM »
Pornokitsch on good old 'Legend'

http://www.pornokitsch.com/2011/03/underground-reading-legend-by-david-gemmell.html

I have a theory... (that's your cue to skip the next few paragraphs) it involves the mid-80's and the fantasy scene. I'm not sure exactly what was in the water, but there's a two-ish year period between late 1983 and early 1985 that generated some of the most amazing sf/f. The sorts of books that broke new ground, proved immensely important and still dominate shelves.

(I'm also aware that fifteen minutes of research could probably prove the same point with any three year period. But indulge me, will you?)

The Colour of Magic, The Mists of Avalon, Ender's Game, The Name of the Rose, Neuromancer, The Dragon Waiting, The Anubis Gates, The Armageddon Rag, The Digging Leviathan, The Tomb, Hawksmoor, The Wasp Factory, The Damnation Game (& "The Last Illusion"), The Belgariad, The Pliocene Epic, Fionavar Tapestry, Mordant's Need, The Dragonlance Chronicles, etc. etc. etc.

The total is pretty impressive. And I suspect, the internet being what it is, you could probably add a few more. From alternate history to urban fantasy, high fantasy to low fantasy, cyberpunk to steampunk, cross-over-literary-slipstream or flat-out-commercial - whatever your subgenre poison of choice, its genetic line runs right through this slice of time. Or possibly even begins with it.

David Gemmell's Legend (1984) belongs in the ranks of these immortals. When all is accounted for - when the great Horn of Asimov sounds and all dogs go to heaven - Legend will step up and take, if not its throne, at least a comfy footstool.

There. Now that I've acknowledged its importance, let's get to the fun part, shall we?

The thing is, just because a book is important doesn't mean it has to be any good. We all figured that out when suffering through Ralph Waldo Emerson in high school or, perhaps more recently, when doing a frantic re-read of A Game of Thrones. Legend is vastly significant for a lot of very legitimate reasons. But it also really sucks.

With his debut novel, Mr. Gemmell boldly bent a lot of the rules. No stableboys in sight - his hero was Druss, an arthritic old man. No coming of age story - with the exception of some minor characters, people, in the best Popeyed fashion, are what dey are. And, his most critical innovation was a wonderfully perverse notion of the "quest" - in Legend, everyone is out to get killed (and most succeed). Unlike the distant battles of Tolkien (Kili & Fili die in battle - did you remember?), Mr. Gemmell sets everything extremely, disconcertingly close to the action - when people die, you know it. That's both the characters' goal and the author's - to make memorable deaths rather than heroic lives.

Legend Who are these groundbreaking, suicidal heroes? Rek is a wandering ex-soldier. He's still young, he shags a lot, and he's supposedly a bit of a coward (although we later learn that he's more afraid of himself, and what damage he does when he goes "baresark"). Serbitar is an albino warrior-priest with mysterious, plot-bending mystical powers. And, of course, Druss the Legend - grumpy old man, dead set on getting those pesky invaders off his goddam' lawn.

As is fitting for a novel about the Manly pursuit of warfare, there are only two women. Virae is a tomboyish, Amazonian type. She's tall and a bit gangly, but she carries her very own rapier (repeatedly referred to as "that weapon that really isn't very useful") and wears sparkly armor. After Rek saves her life at the start of the book, she lets him shag her (which fulfills her and makes her "beautiful and desirable") and then marry her (which makes him into an Earl and her into a doormat). She then disappears for a few hundred pages, only to resurface and get herself killed.

There's also Caessa, who springs fully-formed from the head of late-night Cinemax sex thrillers. Her parents were killed when she was young, so she's gotten revenge by turning into a batshit crazy serial killer. Any man that sleeps with her (and she's defined by her foxiness), she kills the next morning (method unknown, presumably with an icepick). But, now, in Legend, she meets real Men. Sure, they'd shag her if they wanted - and what man doesn't want to shag [women]? But sometimes Men just aren't in the mood - dammit. Caessa is especially impressed by Druss. Once she establishes he isn't gay, she becomes weirdly fixated with him - massages, tuck-ins, bedtime stories, the works. His Manly aura is such that it has even conquered her poisonous feminine need to devour her mates.

The villains of the piece are a horde of umpteen billion savages from the land of Mongolasiastan. They've been fighting amongst themselves for a thousand or so years, but got their act together in order to mount a pretty impressive attack on the heroland of Drenai. The Drenai empire has grown old ungracefully - it is flabby, slightly senile and prone to pissing itself. So when its weak and un-Manly peace talks with Mongolasia fail, the Drenai are caught with their elastic-banded-pants down. Only one small fortress stands between the ravening hordes of stranger-dangers and the soft underbelly of wholesome Drenai farmland.

Legend With disaster looming, Druss is summoned from his wilderness cabin (where he punched bears and had shouting matches with Death for fun). Fully a quarter of the book is merely his Manly approach to Fort Doomed - wrestling, shooting and axe-cleaving his way through the countryside. When he does show up, he brings a tide of engorged Manliness in tow.

Outnumbered umpteen billion savages to a mere ten thousand fightin' blue-eyed whiteys, the Drenai shouldn't stand a chance... BUT, Men enjoy being doomed. Without the impending death by rending-apart-and-being-tortured, Men would otherwise never realize how Manly they really are. There's the occasional lackluster moaning about the farming life, but that's then buried behind six pages of drinking rough red wine and hurling people off battlements in the Manly joy of battle.

The rest of the book is, of course, battle battle battle. And not even - dare I say it - good battle. Serbitar (he's the pale one) has a weird sort of precognitive ability which allows him to circumvent the need for strategy by telepathically nicking the enemy battle plans. This trick also works for assassination attempts, well-poisonings, night raids and anything else that might break up the monotony of chucking invaders off of walls.

Against the Horde The plot is repeatedly chucked off the wall as well. Fort Doomed is saved over and over and over again by the infusion of [something] from [someone or someplace you never could've guessed]. It turns out that Serbitar isn't just psychic, he's also royalty! So his two-hundred strong bodyguard comes rolling in to save the day! Rek impresses the Middle Eastern analogue culture to the point where they come swooping in to save the day too! And, little did he know, by shagging Virae, Rek didn't just become Earl, he also fulfilled a prophecy and earned himself a set of magic armor! Start of chapter - doomed; close of chapter - saved. Rinse, repeat.

The formula also works for the bad news (if there is any truly "bad" news in book where the characters are actively seeking death). When Druss finally dies (for the first time), he's killed by a Big Scary Famous Bad - so Big, Scary and Famous that he was introduced on the same page. "This was a man that Druss would be hard put not to recognise: Nogusha the Swordsman". Good thing he handed out business cards, because the reader had no clue he was coming.

LegendFortunately, post-Nogusha, Druss still has a few more deaths in him. The final victory over the combined forces of Mongolasiastan comes when Druss (now dead twice over) mysteriously re-appears alongside all the other fallen heroes as Manly spirits. Naturally, this occurs in the bad guys' moment of triumph. The reverse of fortune is simply too much for the cowardly foe. The three hundred thousand remaining Mongolasiastani soldiers pack up their three hundred thousand remaining wheelie bags, wave to the six living Drenai defenders and roll peacefully back home. Explanations are for girls, get out of our treehouse.

Perhaps that's the real problem with Legend: it doesn't go far enough.

Focusing on a battle is unusual, interesting and pretty fun, but it isn't a substitute for plot. Setting a tone of impending doom makes for an intriguing atmosphere, but it still doesn't preclude the need for character growth. And creating a gritty, character-focused setting is meaningless when the plot is advanced - and the day is ultimately saved - by spurious magical fluffery.

Legend talks a big game, but doesn't actually deliver on its promise. It does, however, foreshadow bigger and better books in the realm of gritty, military, low-fantasy fiction.
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Offline Overlord

Re: David Gemmell
« Reply #18 on: July 14, 2011, 08:39:55 AM »
Absolutely loving Legend, I'm not sure what it is about Gemmell, but his writing flows like a river. I'm not an overly fast reader, but I reckon I will finish this before the weekend... It's action-packed, gritty, a laugh or two per chapter - that's rare for me too. One of my favourite scenes (that has been replicated in modern fantasy a fair deal):

   "Look... I want to thank you. There - it's said."
   "It was a pleasure. What about starting again, as if we had never met? My name is Rek." He held out a hand.
   "Virae," she said, grasping his wrist in the warrior's grip.
   "My pleasure," he said. "And what brings you to Graven Forest, Virae?"
   "None of your damned business," she snapped.
   "I thought we were starting afresh?" he said.
   "I'm sorry. Really! Look, it's not easy being friendly - I don't like you very much."

Brilliant =)
Founder: http://fantasy-faction.com
Editor: Fantasy-Faction Anthology (Aug 2014)
Author: "Son of…" in 1853 (2013)
Host: Fantasy-Faction's Grim Gathering

Offline Roojets

Re: David Gemmell
« Reply #19 on: July 14, 2011, 09:04:45 AM »
I've suggested a David Gemmell's Dark Moon for the actual (as a posed to virtual) Book Group that I'm a member of. Its not a fantasy book group so I a bit nervous to see how its received. I suggested it because I think its so good even readers who don't like fantasy might like it.

Saying that I think I lot of people who say they don't like fantasy have never read any.

Offline Overlord

Re: David Gemmell
« Reply #20 on: July 14, 2011, 10:48:36 AM »
I've suggested a David Gemmell's Dark Moon for the actual (as a posed to virtual) Book Group that I'm a member of. Its not a fantasy book group so I a bit nervous to see how its received. I suggested it because I think its so good even readers who don't like fantasy might like it.

Saying that I think I lot of people who say they don't like fantasy have never read any.

Better than legend?
Founder: http://fantasy-faction.com
Editor: Fantasy-Faction Anthology (Aug 2014)
Author: "Son of…" in 1853 (2013)
Host: Fantasy-Faction's Grim Gathering

Offline pornokitsch

Re: David Gemmell
« Reply #21 on: July 14, 2011, 02:56:17 PM »

Offline Roojets

Re: David Gemmell
« Reply #22 on: July 14, 2011, 05:44:35 PM »
I've suggested a David Gemmell's Dark Moon for the actual (as a posed to virtual) Book Group that I'm a member of. Its not a fantasy book group so I a bit nervous to see how its received. I suggested it because I think its so good even readers who don't like fantasy might like it.

Saying that I think I lot of people who say they don't like fantasy have never read any.

Better than legend?

I think so.

Offline pornokitsch

Re: David Gemmell
« Reply #23 on: July 15, 2011, 04:22:27 PM »
I think I lot of people who say they don't like fantasy have never read any.

So true...

Offline Overlord

Re: David Gemmell
« Reply #24 on: July 15, 2011, 05:03:30 PM »
I think I lot of people who say they don't like fantasy have never read any.

So true...

Or have heard of Lord of the Rings and written it off as little fat people questing... 'Dungeons and Dragons' also seems to be a key phrase people use... I don't think I've read a book this year with both a Dungeon and a Dragon in :P
Founder: http://fantasy-faction.com
Editor: Fantasy-Faction Anthology (Aug 2014)
Author: "Son of…" in 1853 (2013)
Host: Fantasy-Faction's Grim Gathering

Offline DDRRead

Re: David Gemmell
« Reply #25 on: November 20, 2011, 04:08:39 AM »
Gemmell is another of my favourites. For a long time he was the only author that was really scratching the "fantasy-action" itch that the other more traditional Quest fantasy stuff didn't. I was beginning to tire of the whiter-than-white kinda warriors and ain't it all rosy in fantasyland vibe that permeated a lot of trilogies, then I discovered Gemmell with his heroes that weren't afraid to draw steel and kick ass. Quality. The Rigante trilogy is prolly still my favourite, but I thought his writing had really stepped up to the next level with the Troy trilogy. Which is a real tragedy.

Offline Jeni

Re: David Gemmell
« Reply #26 on: November 20, 2011, 02:47:41 PM »
Quote
Perhaps that's the real problem with Legend: it doesn't go far enough.

Focusing on a battle is unusual, interesting and pretty fun, but it isn't a substitute for plot. Setting a tone of impending doom makes for an intriguing atmosphere, but it still doesn't preclude the need for character growth. And creating a gritty, character-focused setting is meaningless when the plot is advanced - and the day is ultimately saved - by spurious magical fluffery.

Legend talks a big game, but doesn't actually deliver on its promise.

This is why I've never read it. My brother keeps on telling me it's a great book and a great series but he can't tell me what it's about, other than fighting.
The stand alone books sound quite interesting though, I might give them a go.

Offline Bahl

Re: David Gemmell
« Reply #27 on: November 22, 2011, 01:10:22 PM »
I've read his first five novels I think, then the Troy series.

I think I read his older work to late. Even with Legend, I get the feeling that I would have loved it 10 years ago.

I enjoyed the Troy Trilogy very much. 
Give a man a fire and he's warm for the day. But set fire to him and he's warm for the rest of his life.
Terry Pratchett

Offline Hierath

Re: David Gemmell
« Reply #28 on: November 23, 2011, 12:22:46 PM »
Loving that Legend review :) Don't know if you know this, but it was written in a really quick burst after DG had been told he might have cancer.  The whole book, the fortress, is a metaphor for the body under attack, and the end was left hanging until he got the all-clear.  Adds a whole new level to it.

Having said that, I don't think it stands up as one of his better books.  I think the Jon Shannow series was much better, better plotted and with better characters (Though I don't think anyone reads Gemmell for the characters).  But he was a great, fast-paced engaging writer.  In a sub -genre that inclines to pulpiness, he was head and shoulders above the crowd.

(Incedently, I write heroic fantasy, and I just had an email from a reader saying my latest mss reminded them of "The King Beyond the Gate."  I chose to take that as a massive compliment.)

www.hierath.co.uk
Sticking 'em with the pointy end since 2003

Offline animal74

Re: David Gemmell
« Reply #29 on: August 29, 2012, 07:02:43 AM »
Time to put Gemmell back near the top where he belongs.  ;D

He is my favorite authors.  I have read all 11 books in the Drenai Saga and each one was a pleasure to read.  Gemmell had a knack for not only fantastic battle scenes and quick pacing, but also characters and especially heroes that, while flawed, were wholly aware of the human condition and were utterly profound and made you look at yourself in the mirror.  Drenai is a fascinating land and would definitely read the saga again (have read Legend twice already).  I have the Stones of Power on my shelf and I look forward to eventually reading all his books.  We lost him too soon.
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