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.”

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