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I need a hero

If you read the newspapers or watch the news, these are dark times indeed. What we need is a hero or two that we can really get behind. We might not be able to find them in the leaders of today, but thankfully there's always books! Enter David Gemmell.

It would be true to say that David Gemmell was one of my earlier influences. The first of his books that I read; Legend, really showed me how Heroic fantasy could be done - a flawed hero, yet one that the reader can really get behind. Perhaps in some ways this marked the start of a new trend for me, where heroes steadily became more grounded in reality, the flaws getting bigger until they reached new heights (lows?) with Abercrombie and Martin. It isn’t that flawed heroes hadn’t been done (Michael Moorcock’s Elrik springs to mind), but this felt like heroic fantasy done right: a central cast of heroes and a supporting cast of mere mortals. The heroes don’t feel extraordinarily different from everyone else. We’re not talking Marvel or DC here. As a reader we understand they are ‘better’ than other men & women, but not because Gemmell turns them into indestructible superheroes.

A bit like Tolkein, Gemmell's worlds are generally very low magic; maybe that was my taste when I started reading fantasy. But some of Gemmell's novels do feature magic, especially the Sipstrassi series, with its pseudo historic take on King Arthur and on a post-apocolyptic time, all altered by the power kept within magic stones. The Knights of Dark Renown also contains the outline of a magic system that is really interesting, and was very much the seed of the Artificy powers I use in my own novels, and later developed into the whole colour system used by weavers, herbalists and magesmiths (seen in Child of Fate - you can read an extract here). I wish he had used it more in his other novels as well, as I would have loved to see that further developed.

If you are interested in getting into Gemmell’s books, then either Knights of Dark Renown as a stand-alone, or his debut classic Legend are the places to start. If you are more sci-fi orientated, the Jon Shannow novels bridge fantasy and sci-fi nicely. You could even go for White Knight, Black Swan for a straight up modern fiction. But my favourite of all his novels is Waylander, with its perfect blend of heroic tragedy. His books are not difficult reads; the language is not complex, the stories are simple; that’s really the beauty of them.

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