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. (…)”

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