- Apr 9, 2016
It is right and proper that we recognise mastery of a craft in someone, but sometimes it can lead to overlooking the person's other skills. Take David Gemmell. Everyone knows about his ability to write action scenes, to convey the psychology of violence and depict the tough yet principled characters that bring it all to life. Yet Midnight Falcon, while not being short of the above, achieves its greatness and emotional impact for its portrayal of alienation and the struggle to overcome our mental scars - and the heartbreak that comes when people can't.
Bane, despised bastard of the great Keltoi hero king Connavar and our hero of the day, has more than his fair share of scars. Rejected by his father and community, troubled by the death of the mother he could never truly make happy, he is a violent renegade headed for a violent end. Only his friendship with Banouin, a cerebral youth unfitted to the boisterous Keltoi society and dreaming of a better life in the city of his father, Stone, leads him away from that fate.
The two youths' stories separate and intertwine again as they follow their own paths to find a place in the world. Their arcs are filled with acts of tumultous, momentous love, sacrifice and betrayal. This book does not so much kick you in the feels as dances a gleeful jig all over them, starting again every time you think its stopped.
When Gemmell's not asking the characters to point out where on the doll Life touched them, he's usually writing a fight scene. These stack up to anything else he's done, particularly when he has his latest avatar of the gruff father figure - Rage - on the page. It's a shame Gemmell used gladiators in his book so rarely.
Midnight Falcon is the nigh-perfect balance of emotion and action but what of the characters? Oddly enough, I don't particularly like either Bane or Banouin. The former is too unforgiving, the latter too ready to accept defeat, and neither is particularly funny. But their actions make perfect sense and as such, I can respect them and find them interesting. And some of their supporting cast are very charming indeed - particularly Rage and Banouin's mother, Vorna.
In short, this is a book at the very summit of heroic fantasy.
A coda - The corpse count here is tremendous, both in quantity and variety. Character flaws abound, even among the heroes. Nasty things happen to good people. Money makes the world go round. And on and on. Held up at a certain angle, it is very hard to distinguish Midnight Falcon from grimdark. From a different angle, the faith that ultimately the good in human nature can prevail makes it very far removed.
I don't know which angle is more important, but Gemmell's books would make one hell of an HBO series.