Series: The Drenai Saga #1
Published on April 1984
Druss, Captain of the Axe, whose fame was legendary, had chosen to wait for death in a mountain hideaway. But mighty Dros Delnoch, the last stronghold of the Drenai Empire, was under threat from Nadir hordes who had destroyed everything else in their path. All hope rests on the skills of one man.
You know how in some movies before a great battle, theres a scene where the main protagonist gives a rousing and inspirational speech to their comrades to boost their morale and give them courage to face their enemies. How it leaves you feeling inspired and moved and wanting them to win. That’s how this book made me feel, or rather what the general feeling I will remember from having read this book, that is why I loved it despite its flaws.
Legend is ultimately a story about heroes standing their ground against overwhelming odds.
The Drenai people are threatened to be invaded by the Nadir ( a Mongul like tribe expanding its empire) . They are unprepared and vastly outnumbered. The odds greatly against their favor. They must hold the walls of Dros Delnoch until reinforcements arrive, a seemingly impossible task. The morale is low among the soldiers and the mood is generally hopeless. Help was needed badly, so the famed, undefeated and legendary warrior Druss of the Ax was called. But Druss isn’t the strong, youthful, fearless warrior he once was. Though still able and fierce, he is old now and not as tireless as he used to be, but he was needed and so he went. Because of his age, his fighting ability was initially doubted, but once he has proved he still got it, his mere presence boosted morale like wildfire. Druss is fully aware they are doing might not change the outcome of the battle and its likely that they would just all die but he choose to go down fighting because for him its the right thing to do. As he put it:
And what is a man? He is someone who rises when life has knocked him down. He is someone who raises his fist to heaven when a storm has ruined his crop – and then plants again. And again. A man remains unbroken by the savage twists of fate.
The man may never win. But when he sees himself reflected, he can be proud of what he sees. For low he maybe be in the scheme of things: peasant, serf or dispossessed. But he is unconquerable.
And what is death? An end to trouble. I have seen many men, die. And women too. In the main, they died proud.
This book has plenty of heroes of different kinds. Druss is just one of them ( he is the legendary kind). There’s Rek, the reluctant one, though thrust into the position of power he never wanted, he never the less fought with all he had. There are the usual ones like Hogun and Elicas – season and skilled soldiers from the Legion ( their army) , there out of duty and honor . There are also the unusual ones, like Gilad and Brigan – farmers turned soldiers, less skilled in fighting but never lacking in courage and lastly there was Bowman – an outlaw turned ally who chose to do something instead of just stand aside. This book has heroes in spades. The ones I mentioned just happened to some my favorites in the book. I loved reading about the camaraderie that develops between the characters and the insights of some of them about the war, death, loss, and fear.
For all the great parts of this book, there are some flaws in it. The romance between two major characters was unconvincing, it wouldn’t have matter if it didn’t affect the character’s actions and motivation much, but it did. Another flaw is the use of deux ex machina to solve one problem. I felt like it was unnecessary, I would have been okay had it the book finished before that scene. It was good enough without it.
The book was published in 1984, but I only got around to reading it recently, I’ve been in the mood for a book with heroes in it. It fit the bill perfectly, it is a heroic adventure with an underlying message of giving life all you’ve got no matter what the odds. A pretty powerful message and more poignant considering Gemmell took to writing it to turn his mind off worrying about a probable cancer ( he was being tested about it at that time) diagnosis. He used the fortress as a metaphor for himself and the Nadir for the cancer. I learned those facts after finishing the book, it gave the story a deeper meaning for me.
Admittedly it could have been better at some parts, but ultimately what made a lasting impression with me is the emotional impact of the book and not its flaws. It eventually turned out that Gemmell’s cancer test was negative, and he continued to write a lot more books after this one. I discovered his books after learning that he was one of my favorite fantasy author’s inspiration. After reading his work, now I know why.
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