Monday, 5 January 2009

‘The King Beyond the Gate’ – David Gemmell (Orbit)

It’s that time of year again where I want to read something that will wake me up in the morning and take my mind off the fact that the weather is all grey and horrible. By a strange coincidence it’s also the time of year when voting in the David Gemmell awards is starting to gather pace (get over there now and vote!) and thus a ‘reading project’ was born... Over the course of the month I’ll be going back and re-reading/ reading for the first time some of David Gemmell’s impressively sized back catalogue. I won’t have time to read the whole lot, as there’s a lot of other good stuff to look at as well, but we’ll see how many books I can get through in the meantime.
First up is a ‘Christmas Present Book’ that I hadn’t got round to reading until now...

‘The King Beyond the Gate’ takes place one hundred years after the events of ‘Legend’ and it is a very different world that the reader is introduced to. The Drenai people are ruled by an insane emperor kept in power by ferocious were-beasts and a legion of sinister Dark Templars. The land is being bled dry by an ambitious (yet paranoid) emperor and any hint of rebellion is ruthlessly crushed.
One man’s quest for vengeance is about to become a lot more and will lead him to places where he thought his half-blood ancestry would never allow him to go, another man’s quest for spiritual meaning will lead him right back to the war that he sought to escape. One more man completes the group, he has lost everything but he will gain far more...

David Gemmell’s work is primarily concerned with notions of heroism, honour and redemption in his characters. As such, this approach can sometimes make his books feel a little repetitive and ‘The King Beyond the Gate’ fell into this trap as far as I was concerned. As far as these themes are concerned I felt like I’d read it all before in Gemmell’s other works but there is a strength of conviction behind the words that still makes it compelling reading. Reading ‘The King Beyond the Gate’ leaves the reader in no doubt that heroism isn’t about deeds but more about what’s going on for the person who does these deeds, honour is precious (and defines a person) and it is never too late to come back from the dark if you’ve got these first two things sorted. Things do become a bit polarised as a result (especially with the evil villains who have no hope of redemption) but there’s no doubting the strength of the message.

Where Gemmell really excels with ‘The King Beyond the Gate’, as far as I’m concerned, is his attention to his characters as well as what he puts them through over the course of the book. Each and every character has an equal amount of attention paid to them and Gemmell uses the little time he has (as there is a lot of other stuff happening at the same time) to really get inside their heads and show us why they act the way they do. This attention to detail made me appreciate all the more how important their goals actually were, the fate of a nation rides on their decisions but placing such decisions in the context of day to day survival makes it all the more poignant somehow.

Above all else though, Gemmell’s fight scenes are what really made this book for me. It doesn’t get any more serious than a matter of life and death and that is what ‘The King Beyond the Gate’ is right from the start. Gemmell’s attention to detail comes to the fore once again with no sword thrust or axe blow omitted from any of the bloody exchanges. And when a blow lands you feel it...

‘The King Beyond the Gate’ suffers slightly from ‘repetitive theme syndrome’ but still comes out fighting and gets more than a few hits in. Well worth a look and it’s ‘stand alone’ nature makes it a good one for the casual reader looking to give Gemmell a go.

Eight and a Half out of Ten


ediFanoB said...

Last year I read my first David Gemmell book ever:
The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend
and I was deeply impressed.
Will get the rest of the DRENAI series in summer as a birthday gift.

So I'm glad to read your review of
The King Beyond the Gate

I look forward to read more books of the DRENAI series.

And yes, I voted for the Award.

James said...

The only real criticism of Gemmell tends to be the fact that the same themes crop up over and over again, along with the 'defenders facing hopeless odds' plot device. But it hardly matters because Gemmell was such a good storyteller.

After Gemmell died, I re-read all 11 of the Drenai novels and had a lot of fun doing so.

Anonymous said...

While Legend is my favourite Gemmell book Tenaka Khan and Decado are probably my favourite characters.

Damn, it'a a long time since I read these, must dig them out.

There is an issue with theme repetitiveness in his books but as these are his first two books it's not so much an issue, i.e. they are the original implementations of the themes.

Graeme Flory said...

ediFanoB - You've got some good reading ahead of you :o)

James - My thoughts exactly.

ConUladh - I knew that Legend was the first book but had no clue as to the overall order. Seeing as this is the second book I'll let it off the hook ;o)
Tenaka Khan is great but Decado edged it as my favourite character...