Monday, March 22, 2010

The Swords of Night and Day


David Gemmell's usual brand of fantasy tips over slightly into science fiction in The Swords of Night and Day, the follow up to White Wolf, which I reviewed a few posts back. Swords picks up 1000 years after White Wolf when Skilgannon the Damned awakes to find that he has been "reborn" into a new body. He's been called back from the dead by a man named Landis Khan to fulfill a prophecy by defeating "The Eternal", a seemingly immortal queen who threatens to take over the known world with her army of Beast men.
The reason I say this wanders into SF land is that there are quite a few hints that all the "magic" in the Drenai saga is actually left over science from the ancient past (possibly our world). Skilgannon has been cloned and the animal men joinings are products of genetic engineering. Things that could be satellites, solar mirrors and electric machines are all described in iron age terms. Makes for an interesting spin on Gemmell's long running series.
Druss the Legend figures in this book as well. Initially Skilgannon meets a young man named Harad who is an exact physical double of Druss, but unlike Skilgannon who has actually had his "soul" called back from the purgatory-like Void, Druss's spirit does not inhabit Harad's clone body. Presumably Druss has moved on to "The Golden Valley," the heaven of the Drenai religion. Later though, when Harad is injured, Druss voluntarily crosses over from paradise to once again fight in the world of men. As always it's good to see the Deathwalker and in this book he's young and vital again in the cloned body.
I enjoyed The Swords of Night and Day quite a bit, though like White Wolf it has a plot that rambles and probably too many supporting characters. The book has a slightly padded feel to it, as if Gemmell's editors had asked for a longer book to meet the expectations of fantasy readers raised on doorstop trilogies. Still, the length does give Gemmell time to explore the lives of all his characters.
I have said before that Gemmell was the one fantasy writer who came the closest over the years to writing sword & sorcery novels. Though he listed J.R.R. Tolkien as an influence, his books didn't feature elves or dwarves or any of the standard tropes. Gemmell took Tolkien's influence in his own direction. His heroes are much more like those of Robert E. Howard, with the short tempered, mighty Druss being much closer to Conan than Aragorn. At heart, his books are closer to Westerns than anything else. Skilgannon is much like a gun fighter with swords, and Waylander always makes me think of Clint Eastwood. Since Gemmell said one of his other major influences was Louis L'amour, I guess that's not surprising. Though the closing pages hint at a possible sequel, sadly there will be no more adventures of Druss or Skilgannon. Gemmell's untimely death has left a hole in the fantasy field that's not likely to be filled any time soon.

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Practice Swords said...
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