RARA-AVIS: Off Topic - David Gemmell

From: Doug Hoffman, MD ( hoffmand@cc.northcoast.com)
Date: 21 Dec 2002

Since the list has been quiet lately, I hope you won't mind a way off-topic post. I just finished David Gemmell's _Legend_ this morning, and was reflecting that this was the most enjoyable read I've had in quite a while.

It's from the Conan the Barbarian genre (lots of swords, very little sorcery). The Drenai are a great nation, rather like the Roman Empire, but they are very much on the decline. Ulric Wolfshead has united the northern barbarian tribes and has vowed to expand his nation to reach the southern seas. Standing between Ulric and his goal: the Drenai stronghold of Dros Delnoch, a mountain pass fortress protected by six walls. Unfortunately, Dros Delnoch has a dying commander-in-chief, a weak and despised war chief, and a miniscule army of conscripted farmers and villagers who have never seen combat. They're a few thousand men with poor morale, and they must stand up to Ulric's army of 500,000. Dros Delnoch's only hope is Druss the Legend, a hero of monumental stature, whom they recruit to lead their forces. Only problem is, Druss is sixty years old and has a rheumatic knee.

What can be better than that! This book made me want to go down to Walmart, buy a broadsword, and smite all my enemies. (Or maybe an ax... yes, I should be able to find a good ax at Ace...) The siege warfare passages were sufficiently well-drawn that I found the parallel scenes in The Two Towers to be woefully lacking (such a tiny fortress! they call those walls? where are the ballista, where are the siege towers!) Characterization is excellent. My main gripe with the story: Gemmell has a bad habit of introducing important information at the last possible moment... for this reason, I felt a bit cheated by the ending, but only a bit.

One of the main strengths of this book, for me at least, was the fact that Ulric and his hordes are not presented as the embodiment of evil. Rather, they're fellow warriors, deserving of respect, who are motivated not by blood lust but by the desire to improve the lot of their own kind. Exchanges between Ulric and the Drenai leaders were among the best moments in the book.

Doug Hoffman

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