Monday, March 15, 2010

White Wolf

David Gemmell's novel White Wolf is a bit different than most of Gemmell's other books in that it favors character study over a strong central plot. Oh there's a plot, but it takes a while to get up and running and it doesn't have the narrative drive of most of Gemmell's other books. Instead Gemmell spends a long time developing a new hero, Skilgannon the Damned, taking as much time to explain how he became the man he is as showing his current adventures.
It works well and the reader comes away feeling that he really knows Skilgannon, however I did feel that the story suffered a bit and the ending seems rushed. Gemmell usually strikes more of a balance between character development and story.
Skilgannon is a former general and lover of the 'Witch Queen", who let his men and his own bloodlust get away from him, allowing a horrifying massacre that gained him the title 'The Damned'. This was partly because of the demonic influence of the two cursed swords he carries, but Skilgannon shoulders the blame and walks away from the queen. He enters a monastery and tries to become a priest but he is tormented by his past and by dreams of a white wolf.. A few years later, events and his own violent nature cause Skilgannon to again take up his swords. As a last favor to the abbot, Skilgannon agrees to escort a priest to a nearby war torn city. This brings him into conflict with dangerous creatures called joinings, men who have been mutated into were beasts. It also brings him across the path of David Gemmell's signature character, Druss the Axeman.
This book takes place ten years prior to Gemmell's first novel, Legend. Druss is almost fifty and feeling his years as he once again battles the forces of evil. Gemmell does a nice job of contrasting his two heroes. Skilgannon is conflicted about almost everything and Druss sees the world in black and white. Fans of Druss should be aware that though White Wolf is subtitled a Novel of Druss the Legend, Skilgannon occupies center stage. There's plenty of Druss though, hacking his way through scores of enemies with his double bladed axe. Even among all the character studies, Gemmell doesn't skimp on the action and those looking for lots of battles and bloodshed won't be disappointed.
Along with all this, you get Gemmell's usual ruminations of friendship, love, and personal honor. One thing I really like about Gemmell's book is that I always come away feeling slightly uplifted because there's always at least one (and usually more than one) character who's trying to do the right thing just because it's the right thing to do. Gemmell's heroes often pay a high price for behaving honorably but they don't give up or back down.
This book came out in 2004 and its sequel, The Swords of Night and Day, in 2005. I read White Wolf in hardback, but somehow missed the sequel. I have it here and will probably leap into it while the events of White Wolf are still fresh in my mind.

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