Friday, 23 January 2009

‘The Last Guardian’ – David Gemmell (Orbit)

Since I’ve started posting reviews on David Gemmell’s work, a couple of people have asked when I’m going to start reading outside the world of the Drenai. Hopefully this review should help a bit! Part of the reason I started to read Gemmell’s books again was not only to revisit some old favourites but also to pick up some of his books that I’ve never got round to reading. I’ve never read any of the ‘Jon Shannow’ books and Orbit were kind enough to send me a copy of ‘The Last Guardian’, any book that has a picture of a cowboy fighting off a lizard on the front will (more often that not) find it’s way to the top of the reading pile!

The Earth has tilted on its axis and life hasn’t been the same since. The landmasses of the world are covered in water from oceans that are now drained, providing new land for the survivors to settle on. This is a dangerous new world where strength rules (and who is quickest on the trigger) and dangerous technology lies waiting to fall into the wrong hands.

‘I can wear my white robes and pray in peace. The evil can dress in black. But there must always be the grey riders to patrol the border between good and evil...’

Jon Shannow is the Jerusalem Man, a man on a quest for meaning in the city of God. The two guns in his hands mean that no-one will stop that quest and he will also take time out if he feels that sin is in particular need of being rooted out and destroyed. When the gateway between past and present is opened, Shannow will find that he is the only one who can stand between two worlds and make the decision that will spell doom for either one or both...

Gemmell’s novels are books that like to proudly display their influences on their sleeve and ‘The Last Guardian’ is no different. The ‘Western’ influence is clearly apparent from the start and I also felt that Jon Shannow had an air of King’s ‘Roland of Gilead’ about him, especially when I found that Shannow is referred to by that name. A cowboy on a quest in an apocalyptic world/a world that has ‘moved on’...? Bearing in mind that the ‘original Roland’ was around long before King took up the name maybe it’s not such a big deal after all but it was still interesting to note...

‘The Last Guardian’s’ influences are plain to see but, once again, it is what Gemmell does with them that makes the book stand out in it’s own right. What looks very much like a retelling of the motivation behind John Lennon’s murder (at least that’s how it looked to me) is used to show the futility of killing someone to ensure that you are remembered. Gemmell likes to give his readers something to think on and the message here is that if you’re going to be remembered for something, make sure that it’s something worthwhile...

‘The Last Guardian’ is only two hundred and seventy five pages long and I picked it up, a couple of days ago, as I thought it would be a relatively quick read. I was totally wrong as Gemmell doesn’t waste any words; packing those pages with plenty of things going on and plenty of insight into the characters driving the plot forward. The plot is a little more thoughtful than others, of his, that I’ve read so far; concentrating on characters rather than events. As a result, things proceed at a slower pace than you would expect but when the guns start blazing the pace soon picks up and Gemmell writes with the intensity he is known for.

For such a short book, Gemmell is able to give the reader a lot of time to get inside the heads of all the main players. As the lead character, Jon Shannow gets the most time on the page and his ‘Clint Eastwood’ exterior hides a character who is becoming a victim of his own reputation. Even if Shannow wanted to settle down he couldn’t as he is aware that there will always be someone who will want to test themselves against him. Shannow is also starting to feel his age and, paradoxically, this means that he cannot settle down and stop.
Heroism is one of Gemmell’s favourite themes and ‘The Last Guardian’ shows that heroism can come in many guises, all of which are of equal importance (‘feel good’ reading if ever I saw it, which isn’t a bad thing). Speaking up when you don’t want to (although you know it’s right) can be just as important as facing down overwhelming odds armed only with a revolver.

By the end of ‘The Last Guardian’ I was left feeling that the book wore its influences a little too obviously for my tastes. On the other hand though ‘The Last Guardian’ was a book that I was completely engrossed in and I’ll be searching out the other two books, in the trilogy, in no short order. My first attempt at reading outside the ‘Drenai universe’ (for the blog) was a success.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten


Hagelrat said...

See my history with fantasy was soo sketchy that I have never actually read Gemmell.

ThRiNiDiR said...

I've read first three Drenai novels, and found them (at least two of them) quite impressive. You've piqued my interest for the Shannon books now :)

Graeme Flory said...

Thrinidir - If you liked the Drenai books then I reckon you'll like Jon Shannow as well, give him a go ;o)