O. S. Card Recently reads Gemmell


Well-Known Member
Apr 1, 2007
I thought this was interesting seeing what a writer really feels about another and not just the hyperbole blurbs you see in every cover.

When I discover a new author who consistently creates moving, inventive stories with memorable characters, one of the great pleasures is looking forward to future books.

That's how I felt about David Gemmell. Having just finished his four novels set among an imaginary tribe called "the Rigante" (Sword in the Storm, Midnight Falcon, Ravenheart, and Stormrider), I was looking forward to catching up with his previous work and then reading whatever he produced in the future.

Only there won't be any more books. On the 6th of July 2006, at the age of 57, he died.

Before I ever heard of him or read a single one of his books, he was gone.

I suppose there's nothing unusual in that. In fact, many of my favorite authors were dead before I was born.

And in Gemmell's case, there is this consolation for his readers: He wrote about thirty books before he died. I've read five of them. I still have the pleasure of at least twenty-five novels before I've caught up with all he wrote.

If you have never read anything of Gemmell's, you have much to look forward to.

The four Rigante novels begin among a tribe that is clearly based on the Celts of Britain at about the time the Romans were conquering Gaul. Gemmell draws freely on that history to create the rich setting of these books, but he also takes whatever liberties he needs.

So Rome is a city called "Stone," which brutally conquers whatever people it wants, selling the marketable adults into slavery and slaughtering babies and children too young to sell. The first two books tell the story of the Rigante heroes who unite their fragmented people and not only resist the Stone invaders but conquer the great city.

The Rigante, however, have no ambition to rule over other people. They merely wish to be left alone. So they do not rule Stone for long, and over the centuries they return to their peaceful life.

The result is that in the last two Rigante novels, set hundreds of years after the first two, the Rigante are ruled by Norse-like conquerors who oppress them, deny their history, and impose their religion on them.

It's a Christian-like religion we saw aborning in the first two books, but now it has become corrupted, and a fanatical group of crusaders is involved in a civil war. So once again, Rigante heroes are required to sacrifice whatever is required to save their people -- and even their conquerors -- from massacres and atrocities.

Did I mention that these novels are fantasies? The magic element is powerful, based on the Sidhe of Celtic legend, but Gemmell lays out the rules very carefully, so that the magic doesn't take over the story. Unlike the deeply silly spells of the Harry Potter series, which depend on deftness and good aim, like a really good throwing knife, the magic of the Rigante is invocative and personal. It arises out of character and relationships, and it enriches the human story instead of distracting from it.

I have actually said nothing about the characters themselves. For good reason: I don't want to mar them by trying to summarize who they are.

For Gemmell has done something that is rarely attempted outside the fantasy genre and rarely done well within it. He has created characters of nobility and honor, and has done it so well that instead of seeming larger than life, they never lose their humanity.

I read the first of these novels on an airplane, the second on the return trip; both novels had me in tears more than once. Not because of the sad things that happen -- that's not often what makes me cry at a work of fiction -- but because of good people doing Good. Unlike fiction that tries to be "edgy," Gemmell succeeds at being truthful; a civilization based on the ideals of his stories would not only endure, it would deserve to endure.

Yet the stories are dark and violent and bleak enough to qualify as edgy, for nobility only makes sense in a cruel world.

Best of all, in this fantasy world the characters have a chance to talk to the gods who manipulate their lives and complain about how the gods are running things.

The stories left me wishing I could sit down with one of those gods in particular and complain about the arbitrariness of letting a writer like David Gemmell reach such a fine level of skill and wisdom, and then taking him away from us with what should have been another thirty years of books left unwritten.

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