It’s a pretty corny name, but if anyone could get away with it, I guess it’s David Gemmell. The eponymous legend is Druss — a warrior who has kicked all kinds of ass in the past, but is now a 60 year old whom no one has heard from in the last decade or more. He’s pulled out of retirement for just one last job. There’s a fortress that needs defending against some oriental types, don’tcha know.
The characterisation is broad but fairly effective. Rek is probably the main character – an ex-soldier who is dragged into events after falling for Virae, the daughter of the fortress’s commander (an earl). He’s well-liked and is perceived as noble and brave, while secretly suffering from a profound and disabling terror at the thought of death and violence. He’s also a berserker, and does some top-notch killing when the red mist falls. Virae is less interesting: brave, but irritable and headstrong, and, ultimately, subservient to the ‘stronger’ male characters. After the two marry (which they do very quickly) and her father dies, Rek becomes earl and unquestioned commander, despite being virtually unknown and having evinced no particular qualities that one would want in a leader. Their marriage having secured Rek this exalted position, Virae promptly dies. Nice one Gemmell. Another character, Bowman, is depicted as laid back and ironic and is given bizarrely affected upperclass tics (for example, calling people “old bean”). Perhaps unsurprising, Bowman is…an archer.
There are also a band of psychic warrior monks. These guys are really cheesy. One of them gets weepy over leaving his plant behind at the monastery when heading off for the big scrap: “He made his farewells, gently easing the gossamer panic of the plant that had know him since its first leaf opened”. *snigger*. Handily enough, these psychic monks can tell the future. This power is pretty weakly depicted by Gemmell — they go on about how there’s no way to change the future (for example, after saying that they knew Virae was going to die), but then at other points use their foreknowledge to…change the future. Nobody seems to pick up on this striking inconsistency.
As I read it, I considered whether I could be bothered to finish it if it weren’t a fantasy novel, that is, if it were historical fiction, or a western where a few good (gun)men were defending an outpost against outlaws. I’m not sure. It’s pretty cheesy stuff, but it’s got great pot-boiler qualities and the chapters fly by. Of course, beyond that it’s got its status as a fantasy classic — something that’s almost necessary to read if you want to have a good take on the evolution of the genre over the last few decades. It’s pretty magic light and it’s stripped of most bildungsroman elements leaving a relatively spare battle-orientated plot. I can see it as a kind of fore-runner of later military fantasy (like Steven Erikson’s Malazan stuff, though that’s possibly the least magic light series I’ve ever read). Still, though I may have enjoyed it as a young fella, I don’t really see much literary merit in it now. Not one I could really recommend, and certainly not one that I’m sad not to have on my bookshelf.