Saturday, 20 August 2011

Legend by David Gemmell || Book Review

The Legend Druss, Captain of the Axe: the stories of his life were told everywhere. Instead of the wealth and fame he could have claimed, he had chosen a mountain lair, high in the lonely country bordering on the clouds. There the grizzled old warrior kept company with snow leopards and awaited his old enemy death. The Fortress Mighty Dros Delnoch, protected by six outer walls, the only route by which an army could pass through the mountains. It was the stronghold of the Drenai empire. And now it was the last battleground, for all else had fallen before the Nadir hordes. And hope rested on the skills of that one old man...


Introduction: David Gemmell is a name every fantasy enthusiast has heard of and many are intimately familiar with. Legend first published in 1984, was the best selling author's first novel in his famous Drenai Saga. Legend has the position of a classic in fantasy literature, and had been on my radar for some time. So when I found it lying on the shelves of my local old bookstore it was an instant buy and read.

Classification: Legend can be classified as heroic-military fantasy although the fantasy elements actually in it are few and it could just as easily have been historical fiction had Gemmell wanted it to be. At 345 pages it is a rather short novel, though what it lacks for in quantity is made up for in quality.

Analysis: The Dialogue and characterization are top notch, the prose lyrical, the action unflinching and there is no dearth of great lines. The plot is relatively simple, just like the blurb tells it, Dros Delnoch is a doomed Drenai fortress, which although strong architecturally lacks the manpower to be defended against the nearly endless numbers of Nadir warriors, united for the first time under a single King. Druss an old war veteran and hero of the Drenai brings hope and morale to the despondent defenders, he is not the only hero, there are other unlikely heroes amongst the Drenai who are no less important to the cause, yet all derive inspiration and strength from Druss.

Legend is a story of a lost cause and a hopeless last stand, of an empire in its twilight years, and of heroes who refuse to give in although defeat is certain and only a matter of time. It is about flawed heroes, each one with his or her own fears. Rek is a melancholy man who thinks himself a craven, Virae a woman bound by duty and honor but in her own way crippled; comfortable as a soldier but clumsy and uncomfortable as a woman. Even Druss has his fear of dying as a senile & lonely man.

Above all legend is a book about heroism, courage, honor and life. Gemmell points out that life is never more beautiful or dearer than when you look death in the eye. How it brings things into sharper focus, how it makes even the most despondent of men realize that they do wish to live after-all.

He talks about how puny humanity and its struggles seem when viewed from a historical or cosmic perspective. If hundreds of thousands of men die, so what they died before in ages past and the world moved on. If whole civilizations were to pass from existence, so what? Thousands such have been extinguished before the flames of time and other civilizations took their place. What is the meaning of man's struggles if all of his endeavours are destined to fade into obscurity? Gemmell asks the question of what is the purpose of struggle when the end is certain defeat, and answers that all men die but to continue in defiance inspite of assured defaeat is the mark of a man.

"And what is a man? He is someone who rises when life has knocked him down. He is someone who raises his fist to heaven when a storm has ruined his crop - and then plants again. And again. A man remains unbroken by the savage twists of fate. That man may never win. But when he sees himself reflected, he can be proud of what he sees. For low he may be in the scheme of things: peasant, serf, or dispossessed. But he is unconquerable."
"Each man has a breaking point, no matter how strong his spirit. Somewhere, deep inside him, there is a flaw that only the fickle cruelty of fate can find. A man's strength is ultimately born of his knowledge of his own weakness."

"That's what friends are all about - they are people with whom you can be silent."

Legend highlights the effects of strong and experienced leadership, how leaders inspire ordinary men to rise up and do deeds of heroism and wonder. Gemmell handles the notion of love and how it affects humanity. How cravens become heroes how tongue-tied buffoons become models of confidence and high stature.

"Live or die, a man and a woman need love. There is a need in the race. We need to share. To belong. Perhaps you will die before the year is out. But remember this: to have may be taken from you, to have had never. Far better to have tasted love before dying, than to die alone."

He discusses all these things and more but always well within the context of the plot, his thoughts add to the depth of his characters, and it never feels like he's dumping his thoughts onto the reader. There a no evil men in Gemmell's book only men at odds in their purpose, looking at things from opposite sides of a wall.

Legend although very well written isn't flawless and ironically its main flaws reside with its fantastical elements. The magic where little it is employed does not sit well with the overall feel of the novel and feels a bit forced, in my opinion the book would have done better without it. Nosta Khan who employs the magic for the most part is the least developed character and the ending is not nearly as great or believable as the rest of the novel.

Inspite of the problematic ending Legend remains an immensely satisfying novel. It is a last stand for the ages and while reading I was elated and ecstatic. The action filled pages held me in a fever grip and once I started reading I couldn't stop until I had finished it from cover to cover. It is a definite addition into my all-time favorites, and I highly recommend it to all fantasy aficionados.

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