During my interaction with many good readers across the fantasy community, one aspect struck me as odd. Whenever discussions of influential works of fantasy happen, names like George RR Martin, Robert Jordan, Ursula K Le Guin, Terry Pratchett get bandied about and rightfully so. But in my humble opinion, a name often ignored or just mentioned in passing is that of David Gemmell. Sadly, even in bookstores, you’re more likely to find books by aforementioned authors than of Gemmell!
He rightly belongs in the tier of exalted author mentioned above, so thought I’d make a post in his honor and highlight my favorite books/series. He was one of the most influential authors of my growing up! I could recall about a dozen series that I remember fondly from my misspent youth, but the ones which I still consider the most influential are all David Gemmell’s. And what an entry to fantasy that was.
If there ever was a competition of best writer of heroic fantasy, Gemmell would be a finalist, if not the outright winner. Legendary heroes wielding legendary weapons doing legendary stuff…what’s not to love? I’ve fantasized over Druss, Waylander, Skilgannon and Jon Shannow that they are part of my comfort read group of books.
What sets his books apart is the never ending sense of adventure all through. We are always looking for the next big event, the next step of journey in the lives of our characters and it just bring a good old feeling of expectation of more fun! His books all have a sense of symmetry and usually ends either physically or symbolically close to where the journey began which gives the reader a full sense of satisfaction of having finished the series in full!
I’ve highlighted some series which were my favorites, which means some popular fan favorites are left out. I can earnestly recommend you to read all of his works as I’m certain you’ll find them enriching and immensely satisfying even now.
Now, let’s talk about some his heroes!
Druss – Legend, Captain of the Axe, Deathwalker
Books in series:
The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend (1993)
The Legend of Deathwalker (1996)
White Wolf (2003)
Druss is Gemmell’s most famous character. A hero whose Legend live up to his life. Wielding the legendary (and initially demon possessed) battleaxe, Snaga, he was hope to good people and terror of those who oppose him. He’s one of the important characters in the Drenai saga of books. Though I usually recommend the publication order for all series, I’d make an exception and go with Chronological Order here. Though it frankly doesn’t matter much as the books are self-contained and you’ll find either order as satisfactory as the other!
A humble woodcutter with a hidden infamous family history, he sets on the first steps to his legend when his love, Rowena was kidnapped by slavers. There begins a tale that’d take him from obscurity to a name that commands universal respect and fear in equal parts. The book also introduces his legendary sidekick, Sieben who will chronicle his legend. We are taken on a ride as he overcomes impossible odds and adversity preserving in the quest for his love all the way till the big finale in Legend. Not just Druss it has a bunch of memorable characters and epic battles, magic and sheer strength of will. If there ever was a template for “Lawful Good” Hero, Druss is it!
Waylander – The Grey Man, The Slayer
Books in Series:
Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf (1992)
Hero in the Shadows (2000)
Waylander is a classic redemption story. An upright soldier, driven by the blind need to seek vengeance for his family, he abandons all morals and becomes a legendary assassin, one who is so despicable and amoral that he’s reviled by even the worst of criminals. Forced to save a women and child, partnered with a monk who doubts his order’s beliefs, they start on a path that will not just change them but also the fate of Drenai impacting generations! A character that is as anti-Druss as can be, but one who evokes pretty much the same emotions. The books have nice symmetry to them and we get a complete arc for Waylander who will remain as one of my first and favorite anti-hero’s of all time!
Jon Shannow – The Jerusalem Man
Books in Series:
Wolf in Shadow (1987)
The Last Guardian (1989)
Gemmell ventures into a gender being mix as he writes the Stones of Power / Sipstrassi Cycle. We get introduced to Jon Shannow, a mysterious and preacher/gunfighter who wander a post apocalyptic world where people huddle in towns and are ruled by preachers who use dark and corrupting stone of power for their magic. (Shannow so reminds me of Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name character whom I also idolized growing up!). He has his own brand of frontier morals and isn’t afraid of six gun justice when necessary. The fantasy and sci-fi elements are woven brilliantly together in a story that expands to epic proportions involving not just their world but to alternate dimensions too!
Skilgannon – The Damned
Books in Series:
1. White Wolf (2003)
2. The Swords of Night and Day (2004)
Wielder of the Legendary Swords of Night and Day, Skilgannon is a mysterious and enigmatic character whose legend is known to everyone, but the person is not. Having forsaken his life and service to his love, the Witch Queen, his attempt at quiet life comes to an abrupt halt as past catches up. He first partners up with Druss on a impossible mission and then three thousand years later is brought back to life for another epic adventure.