Drenai Tales, Book 1
So, here it all begins Š and ends. IÕd read a few other Drenai Tales before managing to find volume 1 (a freebie on bookmooch.com), and while there wasnÕt the thrill of discovering Gemmell, my not insignificant expectations were met. This is enjoyable stuff, and part of me wonders why when there are so many clichˇs. Really, what can anyone do with yet another lost cause besieged city, some heroes, wizards and royal love interests? (Unless, lucky you, youÕre just starting out on this genre.) Gemmell almost seems to ask this question himself: there is a lot of philosophising in this book as characters continue to question why they are prepared to die for this lost cause Š a question they never quite resolve.
For all the speculation and avoidance of hell-spawn enemy vs. last hope of humanity framework (there is mutual respect between foes), the violence that drives the story is utter fantasy. The veteran characters privately seem to acknowledge the futility of war, but the highest glory any one can hope for is to be a better killer than the next man. ItÕs a sport viewpoint: you hate to lose and do all you can to win, but the best opponents are the ones most likely to defeat you. Gemmell takes the licence of fiction to apply this to war Š and itÕs enjoyable as fiction because, as in sport, a loss isnÕt really a life or death matter.
Again, in hindsight I question why I enjoyed this as much as I did. The women for a start. Virae is such a demeaning stereotype: the ungainly princess just needing the right man to fulfil her. And black widow Caessa who seduces to kill because of childhood trauma Š hardly an insightful new concept. Maybe Gemmell is saying, ŅSure, itÕs a clichˇ, but you can still use it well.Ó As he does with fallen royal-vagabond Bowman Š his joking front, of course, hides a dark secret, but as he and Rek tease each other about their looks we do chuckle without needing a laugh track. The friendship between everymen soldiers Gilad and Bregan is a fantasy standard, but charming nonetheless.
Maybe the problem isnÕt so much yet another writer trying to take us to ConanÕs world, itÕs that so many donÕt quite make it. Gemmell makes it.