Elitist Classic: Legend
After publishing our first “Best of Genre” page, one of our readers suggested that we pick up something by David Gemmell. Gemmell is an author that I’ve been meaning to read for like… mmm, forever. Back in the day, I got started on Dragonlance though, and after my first taste of that series, I really didn’t wander into other books all that much. Still, there’s a freaking award named after this guy (one that I hope never gets renamed) and that has to mean something of significance, right? Luckily, I found a slightly used copy of Legend at a local used book store for like four bucks (total steal for me!) and dove into it.
LEGEND (Amazon) was originally published in 1984 and is British author David Gemmell’s first published work. The original idea for the story at the heart of Legend, the invasion of the Drenai Kingdom by a massive hoarde of invading barbarians, was a metaphor for the cancer that Gemmell believed was attacking his body. After finding out he was in-fact cancer free, he forgot the story for a while, and only picked it up again and wrote the novel we know today, after a friend read it and said the thing had promise.
That is the kind of friend that every aspiring author needs. Just sayin.
The bulk of this story revolves around two individuals that get caught up in the maelstrom of the invading Nadir army. Regnak (Rek) Wanderer is a ex-officer that left the army after seeing the stirrings of the coming war. He isn’t brave enough to risk his life yet again, and so he leaves, but later finds himself persuaded to return for the fight after falling in love with a young woman whose father is caught up in the brewing war as well. The other main character is that of Druss the Legend. A warrior of epic proportions, Druss earned his name when he was much younger with the help of his once-possessed axe Snaga. Now in his sixties, living alone in despair after the loss of his wife when he was much younger, Druss is persuaded through multiple experiences to come to the aid of the Drenai people in their hour of need. And they are indeed in need of it, for the leader of the Nadir hordes will accept no outcome but to crush all resistance that is set before his army.
There is a part of me that always hesitates when reading older books like these for the first time. Will they hold up to the passage of time? Will they be as influential to me as they were to the people reading them upon their first publication? I can absolutely say that this one does. There is nobility and power and honor and strength in the character of Druss, and redemption and love and forgiveness in that of Rek that stories today do not even begin to approach. There is also (quite unsurprisingly to me) a large amount of solid characterization that brought these individuals to life for me. It is books like this, that were written a fair bit ago and that received such large amounts of praise, that confirm my opinion about what makes stories “good”. It isn’t because it has castles in it. Or that it had magic. Not because of the barbarians or the action. Not because of any individual set piece or inclusion, in fact, but instead because of solid character. Readers love great character, and this is a perfect example of that fact.
One of the great writers of yesteryear, Gemmell gave us in Legend a story that was not only great in his time, but is still great in ours. If there is any part of you that longs for a story that seeks to uplift and inspire (which can sometimes be difficult to find in the current publication sphere), then you need to put this book on your list. Such good stuff. A story for the ages.
- Recommended Age: 14+
- Language: Very infrequently and moderately strong
- Violence: Quite a lot of death and some gore. It's a book about a war, after all.
- Sex: Some relatively mild discussion and one quick scene