David Gemmell wrote tales about flawed heroes. He wrote them in settings which are fantastical in nature, but generally low in magic and high in spiritualism. However, the settings are secondary to the characters, and it is those characters and their nature that drive the underlying narrative in David’s books.
It could be argued that the range of characters in a David Gemmell book are limited and that the same themes crop up again and again, and I don’t disagree in principal. I just don’t think this is a negative aspect of his work, but simply an aspect of his work. David revisited the same themes with different characters, different viewpoints and sometimes different results. He often looked at themes of redemption, the nature of evil, growing old, true heroism, loyalty and honour.
There is also no denying that David’s prose is simple and his style is sometimes accused of being ‘macho’. However, the other side of those coins provide us with a fast paced story which never gets bogged down in its own style, and an easy to read prose which delivers a raw emotional punch.
His tales evoke deep emotional responses. You are drawn in to the story through the realistic and flawed characters, and once there you are pushed along by an emotional and moving story towards an often bitter sweet climax.
His stories are full of humour, but not humour delivered in a comic manner, rather humour drawn from the reality of life, the situation and David’s thorough appreciation of people and their motivations.
The books are both personal and epic in nature. It’s difficult to expand on that comment in a reasonably short number of words, but I will try. While the story might focus on a single person or small group of people and their emotional and heroic attempts to stave off some great evil, you have no choice by to find yourself questioning the very nature of heroism, good, evil, redemption, honour and loyalty. What is it that makes one person’s actions heroic and another’s evil? What is bravery, and how can you be brave without ever feeling fear? These questions are driven from the core of the personal emotions in the stories, but their scope is epic.
David’s journalism background, his innate story telling ability and his very nature means the books are rich with life and honesty. The stories evoke a feeling of ancient legends and myths told around a blazing fire, fighting to keep the darkness away. They are rousing tales of honesty, truth and loyalty in the face of almost absolute despair.
You might not be a fan of fantasy, but don’t be put off by the book store labelling. Quite apart from his historical fantasy (for example, the three Troy books), the rest of the books have a solid grounding in reality and there are no elves or dwarves, just a rich mythology and spattering of alternate-history.
To finish though, the reason why you should read David Gemmell’s books is that the tales in them are alive, demanding to be read, trying to be free. These are more than just stories, these are legends and myths brought to life by a master story teller.