Monday, April 11, 2011

The Legend of the DeathWalker

I have often wondered if David Gemmell regretted killing off his hero Druss in Gemmell's first published novel, Legend. Probably not, as the structure of the book required the death of the hero, and Druss was at a fairly advanced age in that book which would have made sequels difficult. Also, it was probably Druss's sacrifice that made the book what it was and made Gemmell's career.
Still, Gemmell would bring back Druss time and again in a number of prequels and would even raise him from the dead in one novel. Hard to keep a born fighter like Druss down, I guess.
This weekend I was re-reading one of the prequels, The Legend of the DeathWalker, which takes place when Druss was thirty years old and probably the mightiest man in the Drenai lands. In one of those odd quirks of fate, I purchased my first copy of this book before it was available in America. I had read The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend just before a trip to the United Kingdom and I bought Deathwalker in the famous Blackwell's Bookshop in Oxford, where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to shop for books. Gemmell had just started to 'hit' in the US and many of his books weren't available over here. I stocked up while I was in the UK. Sadly I loaned that copy out and never got it back, but my Del Rey paperback is certainly serviceable. I read the original, though, on the flight back from England, and it more than held my attention all the way across the pond.
In this one, the mighty Druss is participating in a series of games sort of like the Olympics. He's a bare-knuckle fighter and he's only in the games because he broke the jaw of the Drenai champion during a sparring match and felt obliged to take his place. Druss has fought his way to the final match, but his worthy opponent is stricken down by a poisoned crossbow bolt meant for Druss and the man's only hope are two mystic jewels called The Eyes of Alchazzar, reputedly hidden in an ancient shrine, and supposed to possess healing properties.
Along with his friend, the poet Sieban, Druss goes searching for the jewels. What Druss doesn't know is, Garen-Tsen the true power behind the mad 'God-King' of the Gothir also covets the gems and he's willing to expend a force of 5000 men to get them. It will fall to Druss and a rag tag group of warriors to hold the ruined shrine against impossible odds. However, readers of Druss know that, much like Han Solo, you never tell Druss the Odds.
This is one of Gemmell's most action packed novels, and if you know Gemmell that's saying something. Re-reading it I was reminded once again of why I like the character of Druss so much. He's just a decent man, trying to do the right thing no matter what it costs him. And of course he's hell on wheels in a fight. Gemmell wrote some of the best fight scenes in the heroic fantasy field.
Gemmell was also one of the few fantasy writers whose work was closer in spirit to sword & sorcery than epic fantasy, so his death at the age of 58 was a major loss to those of us who love fantasy with an edge to it. He left behind a lot of books, most worth reading more than once.

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