Monday, 30 November 2015

David Gemmell vs. Glen Cook

(Originally posted on Tuesday, 27 December 2011)

I am a huge fan of Glen Cook and I usually love the grittiness in his books. However they are sometimes too depressing, considering especially the fact that almost all characters keep changing for worse. That’s when I switch to David Gemmell novels. They are gritty too, but I find them more positive overall.

I will compare David Gemmell’s style of writing to Glen Cook’s style.

Please read my post from May 2009 to learn about Glen Cook’s style of writing first.

1. Descriptions are very modest. (Glen Cook)

David Gemmell gives more detailed descriptions of places and people. Usually he keeps them not too long and doesn’t bore me, but the pace is slower than in Glen Cook novels. I prefer Glen Cook here.

2. The sentences are short. (Glen Cook)

David Gemmell writes longer sentences, but they are still not too long and are easy to read and understand. No preference here.

3. All the characters are flawed. (Glen Cook)

David Gemmell writes very much like Glen Cook, but there is a stronger line between good and evil. All his characters are flawed (in many different ways), but the weaknesses of the good characters are never repelling. David Gemmell shows that there are people who are able to stick to their beliefs and to be truly good no matter how hard it is for them and no matter what tragedy touched them. This is something that Glen Cook seems not to see. Glen Cook seems to think that every person sooner or later becomes a depressed self-destructing prick with no good ideas about the world and other people. His characters almost always change for the worse, which drives me crazy. David Gemmell on the other hand shows that everyone can become a better person, no matter how evil he or she has been so far. That’s why I like to read David Gemmell books alternatively with Glen Cook novels. They help me lift my spirit when Glen Cook books become too depressing. I prefer David Gemmell here.

4. Unexplained issues. (Glen Cook)

David Gemmell doesn’t give everything away, but Glen Cook is still much better at mystery and plot twists. David Gemmell novels are more explanatory an therefore easier to follow, but also more predictable. I prefer Glen Cook here.

5. Humour and irony. (Glen Cook)

David Gemmell is no match for Glen Cook considering humour and irony. There are some funny moments in some of David Gemmell novels, but they are nothing compared to Glen Cook books, especially to the first three Garrett P. I. novels or even to the first Black Company novel. I prefer Glen Cook here.

6. Strong and realistic military elements. (Glen Cook)

David Gemmell is almost as good as Glen Cook at describing war on a large scale, worse at describing single battles and much better at describing fighting on a personal level. He often gives description of sword (or other) duels, something that Glen Cook NEVER does. Unfortunately Gemmell makes some of those duels unbelievable. He also makes more in-depth psychological portraits of the soldiers and gives some of them an additional trait – heroism, a concept that is almost completely missing from Glen Cook novels. It's a trademark of all Gemmell novels. What's interesting is the fact that many of his heroic characters are ordinary soldiers. Not even the main characters. And not even the positive ones. Gemmell also shows that not every hero who willingly sacrifices his life for a bigger cause is properly recongnised later. But it feels so right to do it anyway. The bad side is that Gemmell sometimes concentrates on heroism too much and again loses some realism. Overall I prefer Glen Cook here, but David Gemmell gets a special point for his heroic characters. Usually they are simply fantastic.

7. Not clear magic system. (Glen Cook)

The use of magic in David Gemmell novels is very low and specific. There are hardly any offensive spells and the summon spells are used very consistently and logically. Glen Cook handles magic much more freely, but also more awkwardly. I prefer David Gemmell here.

8. The characters don’t speak perfect English (Glen Cook)

David Gemmell characters are using pretty sentences, even when they are not so smart, but I must admit it is compensated with a good personal background. Glen Cook characterisation is based more on the way the characters talk and behave than on giving descriptions or telling about their past. I prefer Glen Cook here.

9. The narration is sometime not smooth. (Glen Cook)

The main flaw of Glen Cook’s style of writing. David Gemmell’s narration is more smooth and easier to follow. I prefer David Gemmell here.

An honourable mention goes to my favorite David Gemmell novel Echoes of the Great Song. It's somewhat different than books from his great Drenai series, but it suits my taste perfectly.

My preferences are 5 for Glen Cook, 4 for David Gemmell (including a special poin for his heroic characters) and 1 “tie”.
Both authors are unbeatable at their strong points and that’s why they both have many die-hard fans. Glen Cook is slightly better considering that his novels are more fast-paced and his sarcastic humour is unbeatable. On the other hand David Gemmell's morality is much more to my liking, but it's a matter of taste.

I strongly recommend to try at least one novel by David Gemmell, for example “Legend” – his first novel. This book was originally published in 1984  and it has remained in print ever since. Please remember that David Gemmell wrote this novel when he thought he had cancer. It turned out later that he was misdiagnosed (or maybe a miracle happened?) and it is clearly seen by the way this novel ends. It is a very good novel nonetheless and it’s the first novel where readers met Druss the Legend – David Gemmell’s most famous character.

Below are 3 excerpts from “White Wolf” – a novel by David Gemmell I am currently reading. The first excerpt is about the iron code of Druss the Legend:

   “If you truly are like those killers who attack cities then why did you help those people when the soldiers were killing them?”
   “Had to, laddie. It’s the code.”
   “I don’t understand,” said Rabalyn.
   “That’s the only difference between me and the killers. They see what they want and they take it. They have become just like those beasts we slew tonight. Outwardly they look like the rest of us. Under the skin they are savage and cruel. They have no mercy. The beast is in me too, Rabalyn. I keep it chained. The code holds it.”
   “What is the code?”
   The axman gave a grim smile. “If I tell you, then you must swear to live by it. Do you really want to hear it? It could be the death of you.”
   The axman leaned back and closed his eyes. When he spoke it was as if he were reciting a prayer. The words hung in the air.
Never violate a woman, nor harm a child. Do not lie, cheat, or steal. These things are for lesser men. Protect the weak against the evil strong. And never allow thoughts of gain to lead you into the pursuit of evil.
   “Did your father teach you that?” asked Rabalyn.
   “No. It was a friend. His name was Shadak. I have been lucky with my friends, Rabalyn. I hope you are too.”

In the second excerpt we get a comment on Druss's code made by a regular soldier:
   "I know that code. It is a good one. It is dangerous, though, Rabalyn. A man like Druss can live by it, because he's like a tempest, raw, fierce, and unstoppable. We mortals, though, may need to be more circumspect. Holding too firmly to Druss's code would kill us."

In the third excerpt we learn what another memorable character – Skilgannon the Damned – thinks about riots:
   “There is so much anger,” said the youth.
   “Hunger and fear,” said Skilgannon. “It’s a potent mix.”
   “That man back there was saying the rights of the citizens had been taken away.”
   “I heard him. A few weeks ago that same man would have been blaming foreigners for their plight. In a few month time it might be people with green eyes, or red hats. It is all a nonsense. They suffer because they are sheep in a world ruled by wolves. That’s the truth of it.”

PS. "White Wolf" is a great novel (I have just finished reading it), but it is definitely not a place to start reading Drenai series - there are too many spoilers and references to earlier novels. As I said it is best to start with "Legend", then read "The King Beyond the Gate"
(Gemmell's second novel) and then read in the chronology of the Drenai history which really starts with "Waylander".

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Drenai series

(Originally posted on Tuesday, 1 May 2012)

Drenai series (or Drenai saga) is a great fantasy series by David Gemmell. Every Drenai novel has a separate story, so they all can be read as standalones, but there are some references between them.
In fact the novels were written not in the chronology of the Drenai history and that’s why wrote this post.

The chronology of the Drenai history:
1. Waylander (written in 1986)
2. In the Realm of the Wolf (written in 1992)
3. Hero in the Shadows (written in 2000)
4. The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend (written in 1993)
5. The Legend of Deathwalker (written in 1996)
6. White Wolf (written in 2003)
7. Legend (written in 1984 – the very first David Gemmell novel)
8. The King Beyond the Gate (written in 1985)
9. Quest for Lost Heroes (written in 1990)
10. Winter Warriors (written in 1997)
11. The Swords of Night and Day (written in 2004)

David Gemmell’s characters are unforgettable. Some of them are true heroes, like Druss the Legend (novels 4, 5, 6, 7 and 11) and some of them are a kind of anti-heroes trying to repay their earlier crimes, like Waylander (novels 1, 2 and 3) or Skilgannon the Damned (novel 6 and 11). There is also Tenaka Khan (novel 8),
a son of a Drenai father and a Nadir mother, who has to choose
what nation he really wants to belong to.

The novels 9 and 10 feature no great heroes, but some of the characters are very heroic on their own. To me the 9th was a letdown (the weakest novel in the whole series), but the 10th was better.

In the last novel Druss and Skilgannon fight together again, but the story takes place a thousand (1000) years after their death. It may seem silly at first, but David Gemmell pulled that stunt perfectly.

I think it is best to start reading Drenai series with "Legend", then read "The King Beyond the Gate" and then "Waylander". In fact these 3 novels were written in this very order. After that I would stick to the chronology of the Drenai history as described above.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

The Swords of Night and Day (the last – 11th novel in the Drenai series)

(Originally posted on Tuesday, 1 May 2012)

To me the best Drenai novels are: “Legend” and “Hero in the Shadows”, but here I would like to write something about the last novel in that series – “The Swords of Night and Day”.

I must admit this novel is not among my favourites, because it starts a little slow and there is too much about Jiamads – melds of men and beasts (called Joinings in earlier novels).

Nonetheless this novel is exceptional for two reasons. One is
the idea of Reborns – a kind of human clones. The evil empress
Eternal is using her own Reborns as brand new bodies for her soul, becoming practically immortal. The souls of Druss the Legend
and Skilgannon the Damned return to the bodies of their Reborns
as a result of a prophecy. The moral questions is what happened to the souls of all those Reborns? To me the idea of Reborns is a clear analogy to our world, where human clones could be grown as spare body parts.

The second reason is how David Gemmell explains the source of all magic. It’s all about ancient artifacts created by a lost civilization and about the way those artifacts operate. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I can’t explain it.

As I said this novel starts a little slow, but the ending is amazing.
It’s very moving and uplifting at the same time – a perfect finale
for the whole series.
Here is a spoiler-free excerpt:

    Stavut suddenly laughed. “You really still think we are going to win?”
    Druss looked at him. “Winning is not everything, Stavut. Men like
to think it is. Sometimes it is more important to stand against evil than to worry about beating it. When I was a young man, serving with Gorben’s Immortals, we took a city. The ruler there was a vile man.
I heard a story there. His soldiers had rounded up a group of Source priests, and they decided to burn them all. One citizen stepped out from the crowd and spoke against the deed. He told them that what they were doing was evil, and that they should be ashamed of themselves.”
    “And did he saved the priests?”
    “No. And they killed him, too. But that’s what I am saying, laddie.
I remembered that man’s deed, and it inspired me. Others who saw it would have been inspired. Evil will always have the worst weapons. Evil will gather the greatest armies. They will burn, and plunder, and kill. But that’s not the worst of it. They will try to make us believe that the only way to destroy them is becoming like them. That is the true vileness of evil. It is contagious. That one man reminded me of that, and helped me keep the code.”
    Stavut inserted the needle into the split flesh above Druss’s eye
and carefully sealed the cut. “You believe that you can defeat evil
with an ax? Is that not a contradiction in terms?”
    “Of course it is, laddie. That’s always the danger. However, in this instance I am merely standing my ground. If they come at me I will cut them down. I am not invading their land, or burning their cities, or ravaging their women. I am not trying to force them to bend the knee, or accept my philosophy or religion. Do I think we can win today?
I think we have already won. I have seen it in the eyes of the Guard. Will we die? Probably.”

Friday, 27 November 2015

Legend (by David Gemmell) re-read

(Originally posted on Sunday, 9 October 2016)

My rating: 9/10 (high re-reading value)

Legend is a very hard novel to review. You can't honestly describe it without quoting half of the book. To me almost everything was perfect.

What's good:
1. The main character – Druss the Legend.
Druss is a living legend – the best Drenai warrior ever, but he is 60 years old. He suffers from a bad knee and a bad shoulder, but he tries to overcome his age to inspire young soldiers facing a terrible enemy.
2. Unique battle setting.
There is a huge army of barbarians (half a million soldiers) coming to attack a Drenai fortress situated at the crucial mountain pass. The problem is that the fortress is manned by too few soldiers and everybody predicts that it will fall. The point of defending the fortress is to hold the invasion as long as possible – to allow as much time as possible to gather a proper army. There are six walls that are supposed to be defended one after another. The names of the walls are:
Eldibar – exultation, Musif – despair, Kania – renewed hope, Sumitos – desperation, Valteri – serenity and Geddon – death.
3. The preparations for the battle.
To me this was the best part of the book. It's not only about training volunteers or keeping other soldiers from deserting the army, but it is much more about moulding the defenders into an army that would not panic when confronted by such terrible odds. The crucial person for achieving such goals is of course Druss the Legend.
4. A perfect start of the book.
First 10 (or maybe even 15) scenes suited my taste perfectly. In every sense. Every little detail.
5. Cool, but believable characters.
Almost every main character is memorable. All of the main characters have their strengths and weaknesses.
6. Nadir leader – Ulric.
The “madman” who leads Nadir horde is in fact a very cunning person who creates his terrible image on purpose – he knows that the defenders will greatly fear his army without even seeing it in advance. He is honourable in his own way and he also understands the heroism of the defenders.
7. Interesting “cleric” characters.
There are some characters who are very similar to clerics (characters of the cleric class) from D&D games. They didn't become so powerful in a matter of weeks or months, but in a matter of years. There are exactly 30 such characters who had honed their talents for a very long time. They can't change the tides of the battle, but they are very helpful nonetheless. The cool thing about the Thirty is the fact that normal Drenai soldiers are rather afraid of them.

What's bad:
1. Defensive details.
Personally I imagined the defence of a high-walled fortress a little differently, but honestly I have no idea what it really looked like in Medieval times.
2. The end.
David Gemmell wrote this novel when he thought he had cancer. It turned out later that he was misdiagnosed (or maybe a miracle happened?) and it is clearly seen by the way this novel ends.

If you have never read Legend then you have missed one of the most extraordinary fantasy books ever written. I fully recommend it, even though my rating is not perfect.

Here are my favourite spoiler fee quotes:

    “(…) Everybody trembles after an action. It's what happens during it that counts. My father told me that after Skeln Pass he couldn't sleep without nightmares for a month.”
    “You're not shaking,” he said.
    “That's because I'm keeping busy. (…)”

    “What does the philosopher say of cowards and heroes?”
    “The prophet says, 'By nature of definition only the coward is capable of the highest heroism.'”

    “So,” said Serbitar. “We are agreed. I, too, feel strongly on this matter. We came to this temple as outcasts from the world. Shunned and feared, we came together to create the ultimate contradiction. Our bodies would become living weapons, to polarize our minds to extremes of pacifism. Warrior-priests we are, as the Elders never were. There will be no joy in our hearts as we slay the enemy, for we love all life.”

    “That was then,” said Rek. “I can't see a toothless old man being of much use. No man can resist age.”
    “I agree. But can you see what a boost to morale it will be just to have Druss there? Men will flock to the banner. To fight a battle alongside Druss the Legend – there's an immortality in it.”

    “(…) Have I depressed you?”
    “Not at all. You have told me everything is hopeless, we are all dead men, and the Drenai are finished. Depressed? Not at all!”

    “You don't drink. There are no women. You eat no meat. What do you do for recreation?”
    “We study,” said Serbitar. “And we train, and we plant flowers and raise horses. Our time is well occupied, I can assure you.”
    “No wonder you want to go away and die somewhere,” said Rek with feeling.

    “(…) Did you know Druss is on his way there?”
    “He agreed? That is good news.” She sniffed and wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her shirt. Then Rek's words came back to her. “He's not senile, is he?”
    Vintar laughed aloud. “Druss! Senile? Certainly not. What a wonderful thought! That is one old man who will never be senile. (…)”

    Serbitar appeared, a white cloak over his silver armor, his braided white hair covered by a silver helm. The Thirty saluted him. Rek shook his head. It was uncanny. Identical timing: like the same salute in thirty mirrors.

    “When was this?”
    “Your powers again?”
    “Yes. Does it distress you?”
    “It makes me uncomfortable. But only because I do not share the talent.”

    “(…) Tell me, Regnak, why do you travel to Delnoch?”
    “The possibility of stupidity can never be ruled out,” Rek told him without humor. (…)

    “A cold night to be out walking, sir,” he said, cursing himself for the respectful tone.
    “I have seen worse. And I like the cold. It's like pain – it tells you you're alive.”

    “(…) However, surely you have to die heroically before you can be immortalized in song and saga.”
    “A moot point,” admitted Bowman. “But I'm sure I will find a way around it.”

    “Men have failed me before,” said Ulric. “It matters not.”
    “It matters to me!” shouted the shaman, wincing as the effort stretched his back.
    “Pride,” said Ulric. “You have lost nothing; you have merely been beaten by a stronger enemy. (…)”

    “With a roar of hate almost tangible to the defenders, the Nadir swept toward the wall in a vast black mass, a dark tide set to sweep the Dros before it. (…)
    Breathless and panting, Bowman arrived to stand beside Druss, Rek, and Serbitar. (…)
    “Shoot when you're ready,” said Druss. The green-clad outlaw swept a slender hand through his blond hair and grinned.
    “We can hardly miss,” he said. “But it will be like spitting into a storm.”

    “You paint a pessimistic picture,” said the general.
    “I tell it as it is. It is a miracle that he's alive tonight. I cannot see how a man of his age, with the physical injuries he's carrying, could fight all day and survive.”
    “And he went where the fighting was thickest,” said Hogun. “As he will do tomorrow.”

    (…) He shrugged and did what he always had done when a problem eluded him: forgot about it.

    “Don't despair, old horse,” said Bowman, slapping Druss on the back. “Things could be worse, you know.”
    “Really? How?”
    “Well, we could be out of wine.”
    “We are out of wine.”
    “We are? That's terrible. (…)”

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Echoes of the Great Song (by David Gemmell)

(Originally posted on Sunday, 31 March 2013)

Echoes of the Great Song is by far the best fantasy novel I have ever read. It’s perfect – 10/10. It’s full of action and fighting, but at the same time it’s one of the most thought-provoking books I have ever read (all kinds of books, not only fantasy).

I must point out that Echoes of The Great Songs is not a classic fantasy novel, because it is mixed with ideas of a world-spanning deluge, a great pyramid covered under thick layer of ice and a powerful race of immortals (Avatars) being cut off from the source of energy for their advanced technology and having trouble maintaining their rule over (other?) humans (called Vagars) who are treated as lesser beings and as a tool to make Avatars ever-young. What’s especially interesting is the fact that most of the plot is described from the point of view of Avatars, not (lesser?) humans.

    "We lose much, Rael, by being ever-young."
    “And what is that?”
    "Flexibility. Understanding. Perspective. The physical frailties are many, but they are assuaged by a wealth of insights. All living things in nature grow, die and are reborn. Even the earth, as we have so painfully witnessed. Not so the Avatar. We have forgotten how to grow, Rael. To adapt and change. We are what we were a thousand years ago. Perhaps not even that. A thousand years ago the Avatar Prime and I designed the White Pyramid. It was a wonder, a work of genius from among a gifted people. What new inventions can we boast from the last two hundred years? What strides have we made? We are frozen in time, Rael, and we exist as merely echoes of a great song."

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Echoes of the Great Song re-read (David Gemmell's masterpiece)

(Originally posted on Monday, 17 April 2017)

My original rating: 10/10
My final rating: 10/10

Echoes of the Great Song is David Gemmell's masterpiece. Period.

It's THE most thought-provoking book I have ever read, which makes it by far the best fantasy book I have ever read. Well, it's not a classic fantasy, but it makes it even better. The book seems to be inspired by the biggest mysteries of our own world – mysteries connected with gigantic stone structures scattered all over the world that seem to have been built by an advanced civilization that somehow came to an end and vanished.

Gemmell must have been truly inspired because he imagined a tremendously thought-provoking yet very gripping story that can't be fully appreciated without actually reading the whole book. Every scene, almost every sentence is important to the overall plot. The story focuses on Avatars (who call themselves gods), but the point of view shifts from side to side, so the reader can learn how the Avatars are seen by “lesser humans”.

There is one thing I would like to point out and explain. Every chapter starts with a short fragment from legends of a tribe from which one of the main characters (named Touchstone) comes. He is a kind of slave to one of the Avatars (named Talaban). They respect each other and are almost like friends. At first I didn't get what the fragments were all about and now I feel rather stupid because of it. Those fragments actually describe what happens in particular chapters. But they give descriptions of events that are very twisted and/or primitive and can't be understood without reading the chapters. I suggest to read them again after finishing particular chapters. It was a touch of genius on Gemmell's side. He showed in a perfect way that we should not even try to understand literally any ancient legends or texts. It's impossible to describe complex events in very few words, especially by the survivors who are not advanced enough. The twisted descriptions don't prove that nothing really happened – something very important did happen, but the precise meaning of what happened may be lost forever. Brilliant!

There are many cool plot twists and I wish I could tell you about them without giving spoilers, but it is impossible. I have to also mention that toward the end of the book I literally had tears in my eyes. I can't explain why because it would be also like giving spoilers, but this fact speaks well of the novel. I believe that to fully appreciate the book you should not read ANY summaries of the plot. Trust me.

Below there are some spoiler-free quotes, but please remember that they are only the tip of an iceberg of great ideas and cool scenes:

    Talaban found it hard to disagree. Driving gold rods into the ice was an expensive exercise, and so far it had achieved little. “These nomads,” he said. “Will they fight us?”
    Now it was Touchstone's turn to shrug. “Who knows? Them's tough boys. They'll fight if they see the gold. They don't believe in Avatars no more. They know your magic is dying. They know the ice killed the empire.”
    “Wounded it,” corrected Talaban. “Nothing can kill the empire. We are too strong.” The words were spoken by rote and even Talaban had long since ceased to believe them. “And you shouldn't verbalize such thoughts. I don't want to see you lying upon the crystals.”
    “Straight talk?” said Touchstone. Talaban nodded. The tribesman leaned forward. “You Avatars are like elk surrounded by wolves. You still strong, but the wolves will tear you down. They know it. You know it.”

    “How long this new power last?” asked Touchstone.
    “If the chest remains in the ship, five years at the very least,” said Talaban.
    “Maybe you become gods again,” said Touchstone.
    “Maybe we will,” agreed Talaban. “But I hope not.”

    Viruk's action would not find favor with the High Council. They would call it provocative. But he didn't care. All-out war with the tribes was becoming increasingly inevitable. Every Avatar warrior knew it. Just as they knew the outcome.
    Without the zhi-bows the cities would fall within days. Viruk hefted his own bow, checking the power. It was low. Perhaps five bolts remained.

    “We lose much, Rael, by being ever-young.”
    “And what is that?”
    “Flexibility. Understanding. Perspective. The physical frailties are many, but they are assuaged by a wealth of insights. All living things in nature grow, die and are reborn. Even the earth, as we have so painfully witnessed. Not so the Avatar. We have forgotten how to grow, Rael. To adapt and change. We are what we were a thousand years ago. Perhaps not even that. A thousand years ago the Avatar Prime and I designed the White Pyramid. It was a wonder, a work of genius from among a gifted people. What new inventions can we boast from the last two hundred years? What strides have we made? We are frozen in time, Rael, and we exist as merely echoes of a great song.”

    “By the way, Mirani sends love.”
    Anu relaxed and smiled. “She is a good woman – too good for you, I fear.”
    “Who could disagree,” replied Rael, returning the smile. “She will not return to the Council. She spends her time now crafting pots and painting them.”
    “There will still be potters when we are a fading memory,” said Anu.

    “We have no choice,” said Shevan. “The barbarians are not ready for such knowledge.”
    The old man chuckled and sat down in a wide leather chair. “Not ready? Indeed they are not. But then we make sure they are not. We have made no effort to prepare them for the journey. Quite the reverse. We encouraged them to believe in our divine right to eternity.”

    “How the group is financed?” asked Caprishan. “Do we know?”
    “Not yet,” said Rael, “but it is safe to assume they are receiving aid from the Erek-jhip-zhonad.”
    “You want me to kill their king?” asked Viruk.
    “Not yet, cousin. We have enough enemies for now. At this stage we must be careful. Attacks upon Avatars must not succeed. We rule a hostile population. Once they begin to perceive us not as lords but as targets…” He did not finish the sentence.

    “Do not misunderstand me, Talaban. I value you highly, which is why I support you, but you must realize that we are a race under siege. We live with the constant threat of extinction. Such a situation breeds paranoia.”
    “You are right,” said Talaban softly. “I do despise what we have become. Once we ruled the world. Now we are parasites, sucking the blood from the Vagars. We contribute little.”
    Rael laughed aloud. “I might argue that we contribute greatly to the stability of the region. We are the enemy. We give them reason to unite. Without us there would be constant tribal wars and great devastation. All the while they look to us with hatred the general peace is maintained.”
    Talaban smiled. “You say you
might argue that. I take it you do not believe it.”
    “I tell no one what I believe,” said Rael. “I am the Questor General.”

    “I can't hear it,” said Yasha.
    “And yet the Music is all around us. The universe is a song, Yasha. We are part of it. Have you ever wondered why Man is so drawn to music? Why we gather wherever it is played. Why we dance to it, adjusting our bodies to the rhythms?”
    “Because it feels good,” said the Vagar.
    “Yes, it feels good. It feels
natural, for that is what it is. Those moments when music touches our souls remind us that we are part of the Great Song. All of us – Avatar, Vagar, tribesman, nomad. And every tree and plant, and bird and animal. We are all essential to the harmony of the Music.”

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Morningstar (by David Gemmell)

(Originally posted on Thursday, 12 March 2015)

Morningstar is a must-read book, but not perfect. My rating: 9/10

The best and the longest part of the book is about how legends are born, developed and remembered. The story vaguely resembles the legend of Robin Hood, but adds many fantasy themes, especially lots of magic.

In this book Gemmell polished every fantasy theme used by him to perfection. At some moment, while reading the book, I thought that most of these themes were used by Gemmell in his other novels, but never all of them in one book. In this regard Morningstar is David Gemmell's masterpiece.

BUT … Unfortunately there are two “buts” and both of them concern crucial combat encounters. Without spoilers I can say only that the first one is about combat against three extremely powerful enemies and the second one is about the final battle against much more numerous army. The story tries to explain the way these encounters happened, but it's not really convincing. These crucial combat encounters feel more like the background than the main plot, which is a rather controversial idea.

Morningstar is a unique Gemmell book because it's written in first-person perspective. It's the only such book by Gemmell I have heard of. And I must say, being a huge fan of first-person perspective books, that it is written VERY well. Maybe the very beginning (a kind of introduction) may seem a little awkward, but the main story is written in a great way.

Morningstar is the only book where I have enjoyed a bard character. This bard felt believable and I enjoyed the way he had to adapt his ways after he decided to spend much of his time in a forest community. Cool stuff.

Lastly I have to say that in this book there are many wise things to be found. Every Gemmell novel features wise quotes, but Morningstar in this regard is, again, a masterpiece.

Here are my favourite spoiler-free quotes. Enjoy!

    “There is always more to know,” she chided. “Even as you lie on your deathbed there will be more to know. Are you another Cataplas in an endless search for knowledge? It is not the mark of a wise man, Owen.”
    I shrugged. “How can the search for knowledge be foolish?” I countered.
    “When it is conducted for its own sake. A man who seeks to learn how to irrigate a field in order to grow more crops has not only increased his knowledge but found the means to make life better for his fellows. Learning must be put to use.”

    Jarek called the men together, ordering six to take cover on the right of the road, seven on the left. “Do not let fly until I do,” he commanded them.
    “What about me?” I asked. “What should I do?”
    “Stay with me,” he answered, then sat down at the side of the road with his longbow beside him.
    “How can we fight thirty?” I asked him as the fear started to gnaw at my belly.
    “You just keep killing them until there's none left,” he answered grimly.

    “Why did you talk to the knights?” I asked him. “Why not just attack?”
    “They were moving. A walking horse, when frightened breaks into a run. A standing horse will usually rear. It is this simple. I wanted the convoy halted.”

    Lualis was a glamorous place, so the stories would have us believe. And they were correct. But it was not the bright glamour that shines with golden light from all great sagas. It was the kind that attaches itself to acts of violence and men of violence. The city was dirty, vile-smelling, lawless, and fraught with the risk of sudden death.
    Jarek Mace loved it . . .

    I felt low then, a deep depression hanging over me. We tend to think of heroes as men apart – their angers are always colossal, but they rage only against the foe. We rarely see them in a damp forest, complaining about the cold, and never think of them urinating against a tree. They never suffer toothache; their noses are never red from sneezing in the winter. Thus we strip away the reality.

    We even follow this practise in life itself. The enemy is always reviled, pictured as the despoiler of women, the eater of babies, a living plague upon the earth, a servant of Satan. Wars are never fought for plunder or gain. Oh, no, they are always depicted as ultimate battles between good and evil. But then, looking at the nature of man, this is understandable. Can you imagine the scene, the great king gathering his troops before an epic battle. “Right, my lads,” he says as he sits upon his great black stallion, “today we fight for my right to steal gold from whomever I choose. The enemy are men much the same as yourselves. A good bunch, probably, with wives and children back home. And at the end of the battle, when I have more riches than I'll ever spend in a lifetime, many of them – and indeed, many of you – will be worm food or crippled. Better to be dead, really, because I'll have no use for you once you can no longer wield a sword. All right, lads. Let's be at them!”

    “Nothing is worth dying for!” he stormed. “And I'll tell you why: because nothing ever changes. There will always be kings, and there will always be serfs. Edmund has conquered the north, but he will die one day, and there will be other civil wars. And yes, the north will be free, because a Highland Edmund will arise. But nothing will change, Owen. Not for the likes of you and me. Not for Wulf or Ilka. The stronger conquer; the weak suffer. It is the world's way.”
    “It is the coward's way!” I stormed. “What man has made, man can change. Yes, there have always been despots and tyrants, but equally there have been benevolent rulers, strong man who cared for their people. But if men followed your philosophy of despair, they would build nothing. What would be the point of fashioning a home from timber and stone? One day the timber will rot and the roof fall in. Why learn which herbs will conquer which diseases? We are going to die, anyway. Why teach our children to read? They'll never be able to change anything!”
    For a moment he seemed taken aback, but it was more as a response to the passion of my argument than a result of the argument itself. “By God,” he said, “if you could fight like you can talk, you'd be a formidable opponent.”

    I have discovered in my long life that there are many words and phrases that have more power than any spell of magick. The most well-known is, of course, I love you. But by far the most deadly is if only.
    For these two words can strip a man's strength, his courage, and his confidence. They become the father of regret and anguish and pain. A man kneels by his dead children in a plague village and thinks, If only we had journeyed south in the summer. A farmer gazes at his rain-ruined crop and believes he would have been a rich man if only he had bred horses instead. Lives are ruled by if only.
    I have my father to thank for being free of the spell cast by these two words.

    “(…) I feel like a pawn in someone else's game. Whatever I do enhances the legend. If I was to piss in public someone would swear that a golden tree had grown from the spot.”

    “You are a romantic, Owen Odell. How will you feel when I am old, wrinkled, and white-haired?”
    “To arrive at that point will mean that we have walked life together, and I will be content. I will have watched each white hair arrive. That will be enough for me.”

    “That's all any of us has, Owen. Just days. A few moments in the sun. Yours were shorter than most, but you had them. My mother gave me very little, but she offered one piece of advice I have long treasured. She used to say, 'What you have can be taken from you, but no one can take what you have already enjoyed.' You understand?”

    There's only one way to find out, my friend. And no one lives forever. Face it, Jarek, would you want to grow old and toothless, with women looking on you with disdain?”
    “I am twenty-four years old. That's a little early to consider losing my teeth! And I expect to mature like a fine wine.”

    “I think he is just afraid of dying,” I said.
    He shook his head. “I do not think you are right. I think he was more afraid of winning.”
    I stopped and turned to him. “Winning? But then he would achieve all his dreams: riches, power, women.”
    “No, my friend. That would be the end of his dreams. What is there after a war but rebuilding, reorganizing? Endless days of petitions and laws and all the petty day-to-day running of a state. It is no different from having a shop or a store. Bills to pay, stock to order, workers to instruct. It would be dull, Owen. What need would the people have for a Morningstar?”

Monday, 23 November 2015

Dark Moon (by David Gemmell)

(Originally posted on Sunday, 27 July 2014)

My rating: 8/10 (low re-reading value)

The first half of Dark Moon is awesome, but as the main plot develops it gets more and more disappointing. An idea of a man with two personalities (dominant in the first half of the novel) was wasted in the second half. An idea of a humanoid/animal race that disappeared from the world (described in retrospect) turned out to be practically pointless. An idea of another humanoid/animal race coming out of their eternal prison and feeding on humans (the main plot of the novel) ended up illogical and disappointing. AND there was yet another humanoid race (described also in retrospect) before anything else had happened. That was TOO much, at least for me.

There are some small similarities between Dark Moon and Echoes of The Great Song, but the main plots and the main settings are VERY different. Echoes suited my taste perfectly till the very end (in fact only the very beginning was a little slow), on the other hand Dark Moon was more and more disappointing in the second half of the novel (when it really mattered). My final rating of Dark Moon takes into account the perfect start, but I am not going to re-read it. Unlike Echoes of The Great Song that I can’t wait to re-read.

Comparing Dark Moon to yet another Gemmell standalone – Knights of Dark Renown (7/10) I must say that Dark Moon is a little better because the characters are more interesting. Even though Knights of Dark Renown has one of my favourite quotes ever (about the lack of fairness of life) the novel overall is not really memorable.

There were several great quotes in Dark Moon too:

    “I have often wondered what constitutes heroism,” he said. “Tarantio and Vint are sword-killers. Most of people would call them heroes. But does heroism come naturally to swordsmen?”
    Karis shook her head. “Heroes are people who face down their fears. It is that simple. A child afraid of the dark who one day blows out a candle; a woman terrified of the pain of childbirth who says, ‘It is time to become a mother.’ Heroism does not always live on the battlefield.”

     “Pin not your hopes on the goodwill of rulers, Niro. My father once told me – and I have seen it to be true – that nothing is as long-lived as a monarch’s hatred, nor as short-lived as his gratitude.”

     “There’s no shame in fear,” said the old man. “But understand this – the coward is ruled by fear, while the hero rides it like a wild stallion.”