Friday, 27 December 2013

Review: 'Waylander' by David Gemmell

The Drenai King is dead - murdered by a ruthless assassin. Enemy troops swarm into Drenai lands. Their orders are simple - kill every man, woman and child.

But there is hope.
Stalked by men who act like beasts and beasts that walk like men, the warrior Waylander must journey into the shadow-haunted lands of the Nadir to find the legendary Armour of Bronze. With this he can turn the tide. But can he be trusted? For he is Waylander the Slayer.
The traitor who killed the King...

This is my first outing with David Gemmell, and I have to say I’m ashamed I waited this long to read his work. Gemmell is one of the legendary forerunners of modern fantasy, and has influenced many of my favourite authors, particularly those who write gritty ‘grimdark’ fantasy such as Joe Abercrombie. I expected big things from David Gemmell, and for the most part Waylander delivered them.
My first impression of Waylander was that there wasn’t much detail. Gemmell wasn’t telling me much about the characters – how they were feeling, what they’d been doing, why they were there – and I felt somewhat disconnected from them, particularly as we’re thrown into the action without being introduced to any of the characters involved. However, about 50 pages into the novel I realised how clever this was: we don’t necessarily need to know everything about the characters in order to empathise with them. It’s very much a case of judging characters by their actions during the current and ongoing events. Gemmell shows us how his characters act, providing limited or no information about their background; it’s up to the reader to witness their actions and decide for themselves how they feel about each character.
This makes it particularly interesting, since there are characters whose reputation or situation would make them appear to be villains, yet whose actions define them otherwise, and vice versa. The characters are not blank slates, created by the author to be gradually filled in for us through the course of the story; rather, we get the feeling that they exist independently of the reader, and we just happen to catch glimpses of them at certain points in their lives. We are unaware of each character’s ‘normal’ behaviour: we simply see them as they are, and this makes our connection with them feel natural and unforced, our own choice rather than the author’s manipulation.
Events in the novel are presented in a similar way. Gemmell shows rather than tells, and has a way of writing that is fairly minimal. His narrative is somewhat brisk in tone, and yet the action is vivid and the characters are well-drawn.  His understated yet captivating style is surprisingly hard-hitting, and his ability to create moments of emotion and tragedy in just a page or two is astounding. An example of this is the tale of the old general Gan Degas. We only meet this character once – his entire character arc spans about four or five pages at the most – yet his sad story completely choked me up (and stuck in my memory so much that I remembered his name without having to look it up).
The book isn’t perfect. I felt that Waylander’s shift from ‘Slayer’ to ‘hero’ would have been a lot more effective if it hadn’t happened right at the beginning (literally during the first couple of pages). We aren’t really shown much of him as the ruthless Slayer; as such I felt that his inner conflict – the pitiless man he was vs. the compassionate man he now is – isn’t quite as powerful as it could be. I also felt that some of the events – particularly the various battles – felt a bit disconnected from the rest of the story, and that the side-plot with the armour (and its importance in the grand scheme of things) was a little bit tenuous and contrived. However, there are many, many books in the overall series aside from this one, and it’s highly likely that I’m not seeing the full picture yet; and despite these minor complaints, I really was blown away by this writer.
Although I am ashamed not to have read his work sooner, I’m excited to know that it’s all laid out before me now, waiting to be read.

My rating: 4/5
Click here to buy Waylander on Amazon UK

1 comment:

  1. Gemmell is probably the biggest named fantasy author that I have not yet read, and i have no excuse. He sounds like everything I would like. I like the books like you described here; where we don't know everything about the character right away, if at all.