Scrolls Book Review – Legend by David Gemmell

Published by Orbit

ISBN 1841498580

‘War. Such a little word. Such a depth of agony. Blood, death, conquest, starvation, plague and horror.’

Legend is the debut novel from British heroic fantasy writer David Gemmell which has recently celebrated its 25th anniversary in print. So based on this and due to the fact that I hadn’t read it for an absolute age I decided a re-read was in order. I approached this book with a certain amount of trepidation, back in the day this was my gateway into fantasy books, a genre which I read exclusively for about ten years, would it be as good as I remembered or would have time dampened  it’s thrill ?

The mighty fortress of Dros Delnoch has stood as the gateway to the lands of the Drenai for centuries, however times are changing, a mighty force is mustering is the North with one thing on it’s collective mind – war. The tribes of the Nadir have been united under the fearsome warlord Ulric and only the severely undermanned fortress of Dros Delnoch stands between the Nadir and the Drenai heartland.

With the Drenai Army under resourced and under trained urgent request’s for help are dispatched one to the mysterious holy order only known as The Thirty and the other to the living legend Druss – Captain of the Axe, a man whose death it has been foretold will happen whilst defending Dros Delnoch. There are also mysterious forces of destiny at play, just who is Regnak the reluctant ex-soldier who against his will is drawn to the defense of the mighty fortress?  Given the overwhelming odds can Dros Delnoch and the Drenai people survive?

However you should be warned at the outset that this book does conform to the standard fantasy stereotypes that may scare new readers off. In Legend you get reluctant heroes, grizzled old heroes, farmers turned warriors, cowards turned heroes, defence of a fortress against overwhelming odds, destiny’s realised and accepted etc etc

But and it’s a big but, there are things that Gemmell excels at, namely characters and a certain amount of realism which raises this and all his subsequent books above the standard fantasy fare on offer.

For me there are two outstanding creations in Legend, firstly there is Druss, the legendary hero who practically jumps out of the pages of the book and snarls at you. A hero from a bygone age Druss is an old man who must carry the hopes and fears of the people of Dros Delnoch if they are to stand any chance of defending Drenai from the Nadir hordes. Druss knows he is going to die defending Dros Delnoch but like a true hero he doesn’t shirk his responsibilities instead he actively sets out to spit in death’s eye. He almost single hand-idly shores up the fortresses defences and sets about training and moulding the defenders into a fighting force to be reckoned with. But underneath all the bluster and bravado Druss is an old man who is in constant pain from old war wounds and the ravages of old age, but almost as if he was an actor Druss understands the part he must play in the story and rises to it magnificently. The chapters when he arrives at Dros Delnoch, wrestles control from Orrin, shakes up the regular army regime and starts training the defenders are brilliant and had me grinning from ear to ear.

Then there’s the Thirty, the enigmatic band of warrior monks who act like the peaceful and serine eye of the storm throughout the bloody battle for Dros Delnoch. Although they are widely accepted as the finest soldiers and tacticians in the world the Thirty are effectively mercenaries for hire. Due to certain abilities they possess the Thirty can travel certain paths through meditation and can see the future so like Druss they have fore warning that things will not end well at Dros Delnoch but again like Druss they chose to stay and fight to the bitter end. However in a brilliant bit of inventive story telling by Gemmell one member of the order is always sent away before the bitter end to set up a new Temple to carry on the order of the Thirty. The Thirty also possess some supernatural abilities whilst they are travelling the paths and the way that they deal with Ulric’s shaman Nosta Khan is particularly gruesome.

Another effective part of Gemmell’s story telling is the way he shifts the narrative from the main characters or heroes to secondary characters to progress the story. The best example here are the characters of Gilad and Bregan who start of as farmers called to defend Dros Delnoch but who under Druss’s tutelage grow into fully fledged warriors and provide the everyman view of the siege of the fortress.

So was Legend as good as I remembered? Damn straight it is an absolutely brilliant book full of stunning characters and heroic set pieces. A book that in turns can make you balk at it’s grittiness, the futility of war, cheer for the heroes, smile form ear to ear and be completely moved all within a few pages. David Gemmell’s Legend really is a fantastic book and I heartily recommend it to all.

GS Rating – 5/5. As Druss would say ‘get on it laddie’ 

GS Reviewer – Nick Roberts

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One comment

  1. Dion /

    Couldn’t agree more. Gritty, grim, rip-roaring, romantic and full of the kind of ‘true’ heroism found in the very best of legends.

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