Favourite Fantasy Books Part 4: Legend by David Gemmell
This is a series of posts about fantasy novels that I love, or loved, and that really got me into fantasy. Some of them have not really stood the test of time, some I grew out of, and others are still great. But all of them fed into how I came to love fantasy and how I perceive the genre.
Published in 1984, Legend by David Gemmell is one of those books that just captured my imagination as a young fantasy reader. On paper it doesn’t seem like much; A youngish flawed hero seeking redemption, a grizzled veteran warrior™ drafted back in to save the day, a slightly improbable romance with a warrior maiden, a colony of mystical warrior monks, and an invading horde of barbarians™. It even has the pseudo-medieval European setting, strange magical powers that don’t seem to adhere to any kind of rationalised system and a strange sort of theocratic, religious warrior cult. Even the writing is more journalistic and pared down than one usually expects in fantasy. So all in all it doesn’t really sound that impressive. And yet… and yet… it blew my tiny little read-a-holic mind back then and made me become a devoted follower of Gemmell as he began to churn out novel after novel in the Drenai universe.
Image above shamelessly stolen from Mark Lawrence’s Blog
History Repeating: A Return of Violent Machismo to Fantasy and Science Fiction
At the 35th Annual Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA) in Orlando, March 2014, Stephen R. Donaldson, as a guest on a discussion panel, raised a concern about the apparent rise of violence, nihilism, cynicism, and darkness in modern genre fantasy writing. In particular he singled out what is most commonly referred to as ‘grimdark’, a sub-genre of fantasy popularised and exemplified by authors such as Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence and George R.R. Martin. Although I should mention that he did not explicitly name those authors.
The common (mis)understanding of grimdark is that it is fantasy writing that eschews the tropes of hero, heroic quest and the simplistic morality of good winning out over evil, in favour of a much darker, more cynical fantasy world which is generally graphically and explicitly violent, morally bankrupt (or at the least deeply flawed), and celebrates the dirt, darkness and grittiness of the world. Heroic characters are replaced by violent, sociopathic, immoral or amoral protagonists, who are not so much anti-heroes as villains but on a side less villainous than the other. Good and evil have been replaced by evil and slightly less evil. In many ways a fairly accurate rendering of what the news presents us with on a daily basis, on the hour, every hour.