I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
There’s a lot to enjoy, not the least of which is that he doesn’t get anything wrong. There are so many books that have some good ideas and execution but are undermined by some annoying flaw: not so here. I made similar comments about his excellent The Legend of Deathwalker, but there I said ‘he never soars’. And, yes, there are other writers that are more liable to reach out of the page to slap you with wit (Wodehouse) or incident (Banks) or insight (Hornby) or ideas (Bear) or dialogue (Heller) or something, but here Gemmell managed to land a couple of very palpable hits on me. This on top of the usual dignity and solid plotting. Indeed, the way he wove so many elements together here is a real triumph.
I like the way he seems to wrestle with his heroes – having them ask the very questions of themselves and each other that surface in your own mind. They don’t always agree, or even convince themselves. I like the charm – he writes characters you grow to like, and occasionally throws a nice line or scene to a minor player, such as Brother Solstice’s wake up call, or Persis and his elephants. I like the way he doesn’t utterly demonise one enemy (although the Crimson Priests are your standard one dimensional Spanish Inquisition nasties), having, for example, Bane find his closest friends in the evil empire. There seems to be more room than usual for traditionally opposing ideas.
This book foregrounds its historical influences, outright saying that Stone is parallel to Rome, leaving us in no doubt as to the early Christian nature of the source, and the audacity of throwing a female messiah into the story. Meanwhile we’ve got wicca and, what, some sort of Gaia figure. In another book this would just be a big mess, but somehow Gemmell makes it all work for a coherent story – albeit one that moves (sometimes) in unexpected ways.
I could have lived without the anti-industrialisation/urbanisation/’globalisation?’ message, a bit simplistic, but at least he’s tried to be a bit less vague about good and evil here.
I like hanging out in Gemmell’s worlds. They’re not insulting but they still give you swords and sorcery.