Wednesday, 6 January 2010

‘Quest for Lost Heroes’ – David Gemmell (Orbit)


For the last couple of years, Christmas and New Year have been all about catching up with David Gemmell’s back catalogue. How is that someone’s work can have been around for so long and I’ve barely scratched the surface of it? ‘Legend’ was such an important book for me as a teenager that I re-read it endlessly at one point (weekly if I remember correctly) so that accounts for some of it.
I’m making up for it now though and this time round it was the turn of ‘Quest for Lost Heroes’ to step up to the plate and get itself read. As with his other books, ‘Quest’ proved to be a great book to read in front of a roaring fire while the weather was rotten outside. I couldn’t help wondering though if I’d read it all before...

The events of ‘Legend’ have long been consigned to history and the Drenai nation have suffered an almost fatal reverse in their war with the Nadir. The fortress of Dros Delnoch has fallen and the Nadir empire is now ascendant.
Against this backdrop, Nadir slavers seize a young girl in the tiny realm of Gothir. A peasant boy’s quest to save her will rock the very foundations of the world... Our peasant boy hero picks up some heroes of his own on his quest; men who have tasted glory before and want more of the same (albeit for differing reasons). One of these men has a secret though and his own fight against the Nadir will bring it to the fore and change history. He is the Earl of Bronze, last hope of the beleaguered Drenai...

A problem that I’ve found with David Gemmell’s ‘Drenai’ sequence is that while they can be read on their own they’re very much part of an ongoing series at the same time. I never really figured this out when I should have done and have read all the books out of order. This means that a ‘charge of repetitive theme syndrome’ can levelled at books when perhaps it’s a little unfair to do so...

Gemmell’s books invariably feature a journey of redemption and characters who discover the true nature of heroism (and that they are, in fact, heroes). It’s a theme that is always dealt with in a thorough and searching manner but, at the same time, it’s a theme that’s always rolled out to underpin the story.
Seeing as ‘Quest’ is one of Gemmell’s earliest works, it’s maybe a little unfair to moan about coming across the same old themes again. When the book was first written these themes were still pretty fresh after all. As far as my reading goes though, these themes aren’t all that fresh by now... I wouldn’t mind picking up one of his books where something different is tackled although that’s not very likely now :o(

It’s a good job then that Gemmell’s knack for weaving a gripping yarn remains as fresh and invigorating as ever. Who would have thought that events so world shattering could arise from such humble beginnings as the unrequited love of a peasant boy? You wouldn’t think it to start off with but Gemmell shows you all too clearly that these things can and do happen. The plot is kept ticking along very nicely through Gemmell gradually revealing his characters innermost psyche and then having them hack their way through the enemy when things are in danger of getting a little too introspective.

Gemmell has a no nonsense approach to his characters and this can yield great insights into what makes them tick; either through their own thoughts or through other characters giving them a good old talking to! There’s no messing about here and this honesty ends up giving you a really good feel for the people that you’re reading about. The same bluntness shines through when the knives come out for a fight to the death and you end up feeling every hack and slash...
This bluff honesty does end up being at odds with some of the more mystical elements of the tale. Passages that could really do with feeling a lot more mysterious miss out on added impact by having the mystery stripped bare. You can’t really complain too much though when the story has a lot of other things going for it.

‘Quest for Lost Heroes’ is certainly a very entertaining read, and one that will be re-read, but I found myself wondering if a trick or two had been missed here. I could let the repetitive theme thing go (if I was being fair) but found myself wondering if an added element of mystery could have raised this one into the realms of the fantastic rather than simply being very good...

Seven and a Half out of Ten

1 comment:

Gerald said...

David Gemmell is one of my favourite authors so reading your review was quite enjoyable, thanks. All of Gemmell's books have similar themes in that they usually feature morally gray or even evil characters on a journey of redemption. A book of his though that was different in setting and characters was Wolf in Shadow, it's usually considered one of his top books and I highly recommend it. The book occurs in a post-apocalyptic world rather then fantasy.