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".

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