Friday, 28 June 2013

Book Review: Waylander by David Gemmell

The basic story idea of Waylander is like a picture of a Big Mac – perfect, juicy, mouth-watering, and oh so tempting. The book itself, unfortunately, is the sad, squashed reality handed to you in the drive thru.

Waylander is an infamous assassin, whose conscience is touched – literally – by the purity of the priest Dardalion, whom Waylander incidentally saves in pursuit of his stolen horse. Waylander’s walk towards the light would have been more compelling if it had been by conscious choice rather than appearing to be by ‘infection’ with Dardalion’s purity. At the same time, Dardalion is tainted by Waylander’s amorality and abandons his pacifist stance, taking up weapons in defence of the innocent – to the horror of most of his brother priests.

Waylander is approached by the old King of Drenai, and father of the king he murdered, to find and retrieve his fabled ‘Armour of Bronze’. The armour has no special powers, but could serve as a rallying point for Egel, the general leading the failing Drenai army against the invading Vagrian forces. Although there is no particular reason for him to agree, Waylander does so, even though he is assured of almost certain death in the attempt.

While David Gemmell clearly has some understanding of the elements of a good story, his execution into the written word is clumsy at best. There is rarely any sense of setting, and then when there is, it is insufficient for the reader to feel they are present. Many of the characters are poorly defined and indistinguishable from each other. Some minor characters seem to have received more development than they should, while some major characters languished from neglect. Dialogue was short and sharp, with no identifying characteristics to identify the speaker; it suffered from ‘talking heads syndrome’ and the characters were indistinguishable. Some characters act in ways which defy logic or reason, apparently behaving in that way solely because it suited the author. The romance is handled clumsily, and the characters fall into each other’s arms with a suddenness that is unconvincing. In fact, I was more convinced she’d happily cut his throat and never shed a tear.

Some of the most interesting parts of the book are Waylander’s explanation of the nature of fear, and his philosophical attitude towards it, and Dardalion’s exposition on why taking up arms in defence of the innocent is more of a sacrifice than merely allowing himself to be killed for the benefit of no one.

While I was not impressed with the book this time around, I did enjoy it a lot more when I was a teenager, and David Gemmell is amazingly popular, so his books do appeal to a certain audience. If you’re in your teens, or simply enjoy your fantasy straightforward, uncomplicated and limited to a single book, this may still be worth your time.

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