Friday, 20 February 2009

‘Knights of Dark Renown’ – David Gemmell (Orbit)

My David Gemmell reading adventure continues! While the plan is still to revisit some old favourites I’ve also been looking to get into some of his books that I’ve never read before. Gemmell’s back catalogue is impressively large so there’s no danger of me not achieving this aim! Some readers have also suggested that I try looking at stuff outside Gemmell’s well known ‘Drenai’ universe. ‘Knights of Dark Renown’ ticked both boxes here, a book that I hadn’t read before and one set outside the lands of the Drenai (although I did wonder if there were any connections, more to do with the feel of the book than anything actually mentioned). It also had metallic shiny dogs on the front cover, a move that seemed designed with the specific aim of getting me reading. What? I like shiny stuff...
It was a shame then that what was inside the covers wasn’t quite so shiny...

Six years ago, eight of the nine legendary knights of the Gabala rode through a demon haunted gate between worlds. They haven’t been seen since and the remaining knight who didn’t go (Manannan, the Coward Knight) has been seeking some kind of redemption in the meantime. The clouds of war gather over the lands of the Nine Duchies and Manannan must ride to the Forest of the Ocean and face his darkest fear. The only hope for the land is if the eight Gabala knights can be found and returned to the Nine Duchies to face down the threat. Manannan must ride through the very gate that he backed away from all those years ago, what he finds there will tear his soul apart...

On the surface, ‘Knights of Dark Renown’ is a David Gemmell book much like any other and this is most definitely a good thing. Gemmell doesn’t give much background history away but what he does do is give his reader is a sumptuous setting for his characters to play against. ‘Knights of Dark Renown’ is a novel full of lush forests, soaring castles and dank evil lairs. If this book was a film then it would shown in Technicolor, everything’s a little too vivid but it’s fun to dive into anyway.

‘Knights of Dark Renown’ also follows ‘standard Gemmell practice’ in that it’s a book full of heroism and valour. Redemption features high on the agenda and so do heroic last stands, characters searching for meaning and romance found in places where it’s least expected. Combine this with Gemmell’s trademark full blooded combat scenes and you have a book that rattles along at a fast pace. These are recurring themes in all of Gemmell’s books and I’ve gone from being tired of these to appreciating that they must have been important to Gemmell for him to have written about them at great length. It’s his treatment of these themes that made this particular book a bit of a let down for me...

In David Gemmell’s books you will more often than not find at least one character that will either overcome extreme cowardice or find a speck of goodness (in an evil soul) that enables them to realise their potential and become the hero that the book demands. When it’s a case of one or two characters getting this treatment then there is plenty of time for the reader to really get to know the character and follow them on their journey.
‘Knights of Dark Renown’ suffers in that Gemmell decides that a whole clutch of main characters have similar journeys to make. No one can be denied a chance at redemption or heroism as far as he is concerned. I think he has a good point but the end result is that there isn’t enough room in the book (which is only four hundred pages long) to properly get to grips with each character and what they go through. This left me feeling that the book was (unintentionally) watered down and not as intense as it could have been.

This knocked a pretty big hole in the book for me personally (I just kept thinking that this could have been so much more) but ‘Knights of Dark Renown’ remains a book that hit the spot in all the other areas. It wouldn’t make my list of ‘Favourite David Gemmell Books’ but did make for a nice way to pass the time on the morning commute.

Seven and a Half out of Ten


Anonymous said...

I totally agree. Good book, great ideas behind it, excellent build up and then - THE END! Oh what could have been

Joe said...

better late to this review than never, i suppose.
i agree wholeheartedly.
love the universe, love the characters, WOULD love it if the story were about 3x as long, or in other words, a trilogy.
the character development was fantastic and indeed reminded me of Game of Thrones in all it's glory...and suddenly, the END.
it seemed hastily completed, almost.