Waylander Book Review
Gemmell’s Writing Is Quite Fluid, Easy To Read, And Above All, His Characters Are Human.
Author: David Gemmell
Now, David Gemmell. One of the fantasy greats. If you like your fantasy with a lot of swords, men rushing around, the occasional bit of political intrigue, a bit of sexual tension, delightfully flawed heroes and a realistic take on life in another world where magic is usually the norm, Gemmell is your man. He will pick you up, drag you into his world (he has created several, and also some works whereby he offers an alternative history in Ancient Greece), and leave you rather emotionally wrung out and immensely satisfied with the journey you have been on.
Waylander focuses on a journey of the warrior Waylander the Slayer. A lone assassin with a reputation for showing no mercy. The traitor who killed the king. A man who uses a black crossbow, blackened so nobody can see him coming. An interesting choice for a hero you may think. I think he’s fantastic. Rough around the edges, makes some questionable decisions, but due to Gemmell’s writing and excellent characterisation, you are drawn to him and his story.
Enemies, the Nadir are invading the lands of the Drenai, and their peculiar twisted magic is another threat to the people. Waylander has been charged with finding the Armour of Bronze, and essentially saving the day. But it’s not that easy. Why would it be? Now, it is not necessary to have read any of the other books in the Drenai series, they do work as stand alone novels. This was the first Gemmell book I read, and I found it easy to get into, however it is one of his earlier novels and as such, some of the later ones require a wee bit of background knowledge. It is also not as polished as some of his later work, so if when reading this, you enjoy the premise but find the prose or style a bit clunky, try one of Gemmell’s later books. With this one however, just jump in and ride along with Waylander, a man you should probably hate, but will probably come to love.
You are thrown straight into the narrative, with the torture of a priest. Gemmell does violence well in my opinion; he doesn’t go overboard into graphic description and is able to convey just enough of a wince-factor and empathy for a character with a few well chosen words. Waylander chooses to save the priest, Dardalion (yeah, I misread that the first time and spent a large amount of the book calling him ‘Dandelion’....) partly because he can. He has become that type of man, he is able to deal out life or death on a whim. There is a wonderful, human arrogance to Waylander, it may grate on you for a few chapters, but you will begin to understand his approach to the world.
Dardalion the priest is vehemently opposed to all violence, and fancies that he can save Waylander’s soul. Waylander is convinced he is lost. Terrifying creatures, half man, half beast, are stalking them, in an attempt to prevent them from obtaining the Armour of Bronze, the one thing that will turn the tide of enemies that are invading the lands of the Drenai and killing every man, woman and child they come across. Waylander’s way of looking at the world and his ruthlessness begins to rub off on the gentle, peace loving priest. And if his ways begin to rub off on Waylander, just when he thought he was lost, well...that makes for an interesting twist. It is always fascinating to watch a character who started off as a bit of a cold, arrogant person begin to develop their conscience. They bump into another assassin, Durmast who attempts to kill Waylander. However, instead of fighting, the two end up becoming allies, something Waylander has never really needed before, proof that travelling with Dardelion has affected his outlook on the world.
Gemmell’s writing is quite fluid, easy to read, and above all, his characters are human. Waylander is the way he is because of an incident in his past; when you find out what happened to him, it is impossible not to empathise. He is hell-bent on revenge, but is not one dimensional, wanting revenge purely for the sake of it. As he journeys with the priest, he unwillingly begins to see the world in a different way. Add in the beautiful Danyal and her children, who Waylander grudgingly saves, and you begin to see a spark of redemption developing. With Danyal, Gemmell does begin his pattern of having a heroine with red hair and green eyes. Look out for one in each of his novels.
The use of werewolves, or rather were beasts is nicely done as well, and just a little bit creepy. It is always nice when an ordinary human is pitted against the fantastic (and Waylander is an ordinary human, it’s the priest Dardelion that you need to watch!) and has to struggle a bit; Waylander’s skill with a crossbow is legendary, but at the end of the day, he is just a man, he bruises like everyone else.
The ending of this does to some extent set up for a sequel, so if you enjoyed it and are curious about what happens next, you’ll be pleased to know that Gemmell actually wrote two more books about Waylander. His novels set in the Drenai lands were not really planned out, it was more a case of he discovered strong characters while writing them, and Waylander happened to be one of those whose story wouldn’t fit into one book. Therefore, the ending in Waylander can be taken as final if you prefer.
In conclusion, a nice rollicking tale with swords and a bit of sorcery that will sweep you along without much effort. I do like Gemmell for his reliable fantasy and very human, flawed characters. In fantasy, you need a bit of angst sometimes to make the created world and its characters a bit more real and you know you will be getting a decent story with one of his books.
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