In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle salutes the master of heroic fantasy and one of his most curious novels
Like many people, I came to David Gemmell through Legend, his 1984 debut which would go on to become a classic of modern fantasy literature, and one of the most definitive novels in the subgenre of heroic fantasy. Unlike most, though, as I read my way through David Gemmell’s entire back catalogue, I found myself rating other novels far higher than Gemmell’s debut. Legend has heart, and it signalled the arrival of a distinctive new voice in fantasy, but, as Gemmell himself admitted, the writing wasn’t always perfect. He learned a lot in the years that followed, and, to my mind, the prequel he wrote nearly a decade later, The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend, is his most perfectly crafted piece of storytelling.
In between these two ‘Legend’ books, though, David Gemmell wrote a great deal: among much else, he produced Waylander, which introduced readers to the crossbow-carrying assassin who many readers rate superior to Druss the Legend; the standalone Knights of Dark Renown; and Wolf in Shadow, the first in a trilogy of novels centring on the gun-wielding Bible-reading Jon Shannow. The last of these had a curious origin in an especially dark time in Gemmell’s life, and the result was one of his most unusual and intriguing novels.