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These books have achieved near legendary status in my mind from when I read them decades ago in my formative years. They are pretty much classics of the genre albeit rather different in structure from other fantasy series that I experienced. Rather than being a single story split over a number of parts they are rather more like the Norse sagas with stories separated by generations within the same overall milieu. They reflect some of the naiveté prevalent in the genre at the time. You won't find Abercrombie's complex characters here, this is straight-up bite-yer-bum fantasy with heroic deeds and figures – in the best possible way of course.
This particular saga is centred around the legend that is Druss of the Axe, also known as, among other things “Deathwalker”. This grizzled veteran is a warrior of the hugest renown and when he is called upon to defend a mighty fortress against all the odds a fantastic siege results. His opponent, Ulric of the Nadir is very much Gemmell’s Genghis Khan figure. It’s a heady mix of military fantasy with a fair amount of magical mayhem and mysterious shamen all mixed in. While it does have a relatively simple approach it is seriously compelling stuff and I thoroughly enjoyed myself reliving it and will no doubt devour them all once more.
As for the narration, I have spent quite some time in Sean Barrett’s company, most recently with the Angus Watson books. Listening to this my respect for the man went up another notch. The Watson books see a much more contemporary approach to fantasy with the characters providing much mirth as well as excitement and intrigue. Barrett delivers that in great style but it would be very wrong to apply the same treatment to Druss Deathwalker! Barrett approaches this with a much sterner gravitas reflecting the granite of the character himself which elevates the book to another level.
At the end there is a brief afterword written by Stella Gemmell. It is fascinating to hear how the book came about and in particular how the ending was decided. If, like I was, you aren’t already aware of some of the background about the characters and the development of the story it makes for interesting listening.
So, a fine package and one I enjoyed tremendously. I regard these books as classical in terms of modern fantasy writing so maybe some of the sophistication of more recent authors is missing. Regardless, they are quite simply great stories and entertainment from one of the original masters of the craft.
24 of 27 people found this review helpful
The book that captured my imagination was once again new to me all these years later. The narration is perfect, the story flowing the characters vivid. I had some real moments with this book. Cannot recommend this enough.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
In the early 90’s, back when there were still bookstores to browse in, I picked up a copy of David Gemmell’s “Lion of Macedon” because I thought it was about one of my favorite historical figures, Alexander the Great. Well, it was and it wasn’t, but it was a great book and I went on to read “Legend," Gemmell’s first published book, and then pretty much everything else he wrote (which was a lot) before his premature death in 2006.
These books introduced me to heroic fantasy and led me into Guy Gavriel Kay and later G.R.R. Martin, Michael J. Sullivan, and Brandon Sanderson. The shifting POV that is prevalent in all these authors' works, the mixture of magic grounded in a world that is often recognizable (“history shifted 25% to the fantastical,” as I believe Kay has said), the many shades of gray between black and white—all these are present in Gemmell’s books, which now, finally, are coming to Audible. Hooray!
In “Legend,” the fort of Dros Delnoch stands between the Drenai civilization and devastation. It is undermanned and soon to be under siege by the “barbarian” Nadir under their leader Ulrich. The earl in command of Dros Delnoch has sent out two desperate pleas, one to “The 30,” an order of (surprise) 30 warrior monks with both physical and supernatural gifts; and a second plea to the legendary hero “Druss of the Axe.” The tales say Druss and his axe Skaga together once turned back an invading army of thousands. The earl, who was at that battle, knows it’s somewhat but not really true, but he needs someone to restore morale and stop the desertions. Now 60 years old, Druss is called upon for one more epic stand.
Once you know Gemmell admitted to a fascination with the Battle of the Alamo, the general outline of the story of the book won’t be a surprise, although its outcome might be.
Gemmell’s books are less poetic that Guy Gavriel Kay’s and (thankfully) less dismally violent than George R.R. Martin’s. In all Gemmell’s books, the underlying metaphysical battle concerns the balance between Creation (“the Source”) and Chaos, between life and destruction. There is also the Void, a gray and dismal state of stasis (purgatory?). There is a hopeful note in most of these books that I find is lacking in today's postapocalyptic fantasy.
As a first novel, “Legend” definitely has flaws, but it sets the stage for the “Drenai tales,” one of several series and a number of stand-alones the prolific Gemmell wrote. The Drenai books (I’ve listed them below) don’t have to be read in order, and the last few are, in my opinion, not all that good--along with some great stuff, Gemmell penned several 2-star stinkers. The different books take place backward and forward in Drenai history. “Legend” is the starting point, and I think it forms a rather amazing trilogy with two of the other books, which I’ve noted (it’s just my opinion, but together the three close a circle).
Tales of the Drenai:
1. Legend (1984) – Read this one FIRST.
2. The King Beyond the Gate (1985)
3. Waylander (1986)—the "wayback" story to Legend and the SECOND in my “trilogy” (but note Audible carries the French translation, so be careful ☺)
4. Quest for Lost Heroes (1990)
5. Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf (1992) Ya gotta read “Waylander” first!!
6. The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend (1993)
7. The Legend of Deathwalker (1996) THIRD in my “trilogy”
8. Winter Warriors (1996)
9. Hero in the Shadows (2000)
10. White Wolf (2003) (Skilganon the Damned Book 1)
11. The Swords of Night and Day (2004) (The Damned Book 2)
As for the narration of “Legend,” Sean Barrett is a fine British voice actor who keeps the energy up and the melodrama down. I’m definitely looking forward to more Gemmell, which Audible already listed on preorder.
18 of 19 people found this review helpful
A part of fantasy that has always appealed to me is how travelers would wander around sharing stories at campfires and taverns. History and legends would travel around just by word of mouth. This story made me feel like I was their sitting at the campfire eager to here the rest of a legend. Sean Barrett is an amazing narrator for this since he just sounds like some old warrior. This book has plenty of action and great supporting characters. I really do not know who to compare it to since I thought it was rather unique. This is also one of the few fantasy books where I actually rooted for two people that were in love. The feeling of many of the people just felt really genuine.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful