David Gemmell born in 1948 was a British author who will forever be associated with heroic fantasy. A former journalist and newspaper editor, Gemmell had his first work of fiction published in 1984. Gemmell’s works display violence, yet also explore themes of honor, loyalty and redemption. There is always a strong heroic theme in his novels but nearly always the heroes are flawed in some way. David Gemmell unfortunately passed away in 2006 at the early age of 57, depriving us of any more heroic novels he most certainly would have written. In 2009, the David Gemmell awards for fantasy was established with the goal to “restore fantasy to its proper place in the literary pantheon”. These awards have been given to several well established fantasy authors over the years, such as: Brandon Sanderson, John Gwynne, and Brian McClellan to forever remember the contributions of David Gemmell and how he shaped the modern heroes of the fantasy genre. Legend is David Gemmell’s first novel published in 1984 and it will forever be defined as the monolith of heroic fantasy for generations to come.
The origins for how Legend came to be unfortunately starts on a somber note. David Gemmell first got the idea for Legend in 1976 when he was diagnosed with cancer. To take his mind off of the dreadful news, he decided to try and write a story, which at the time was originally called “Against the Hordes”. The battle scenes in Legend involving fortress and the fending off of barbarian hordes was written as a metaphor for David battling cancer and the hardship, sacrifice, and love it takes to overcome such an obstacle. Fortunately for us, cancer was a misdiagnosis and upon several revisions Legend was born.
The story of Legend revolves around a war between the tribal Nadir people and the Drenai Empire. The Nadir tribes have been united under the war leader Ulric and he has spurned all attempts at negotiations. His army of 500,000 strong has invaded the Drenai Empire and is marching towards its capital Dos Delnoch. With the greatest fortress in the world manned by less than 10,000 men with little to no training, their hopes turn grey rather quickly. Will they survive the onslaught from the Nadir? Someone seems to think they can, and his name is Druss the Legend.
Legend is one novel in David Gemmell’s Drenai series but it can 100 percent be read as a stand alone. The novel follows the stories of two men who find their destiny at Dros Delnoch. Regnak Wanderer (Rek for short) an ex-army officer and natural ‘baresark’, seeing a war brewing, resigned his commission because he lacked the courage to risk his life and took to a life of wandering. Rek is an idealist and eventually he returns to Delnoch at the persuasion of the woman he falls in love with and finds his destiny. The other man is the greatest hero of the Drenai people – Druss the Legend. His death was foretold defending Delnoch and while given the choice to avoid it and wither away as a old man, Druss along with his trusted axe Snaga, march to Dros Delnoch to defend his people one last time. In this story Druss is in his sixties and much weaker than his prime but still a formidable warrior and an inspirational leader to the Drenai. The story also flicks into the perspective of several defenders during different stages of the siege as time goes on.
Legend is the hope, survival, courage, and the will to never give up against overwhelming odds. It is also the story redemption for Druss who will not go gently into that good night. He became a Legend on the battle field wielding his mighty axe and he would rather live once more on the battlefield than die an old and weak man in his cabin on the mountain. At its heart Legend is an adventure story about remembering our heroes and the passing of the torch to the next generation. They don’t always come from the most likely places, but no matter twist and turns come they will always surprise you!
Legend is David Gemmell’s literary version of the passing of the torch on to modern authors the heroic journey and the flawed characters along that adventure. With all the amazing fantasy authors we have today, it is nice to remember where it all began with whom I consider one of the godfather’s of modern fantasy. Mark Lawrence, R.A Salvatore, and my favorite author John Gwynne are all huge fans of David Gemmell and I hope after reading Legend you will be too. He was taken from us too soon but he will forever live in his stories from one generation to the next!
Legend may be David Gemmell’s first book but the true Legend is the life he lived and shared with the world!