There is always something romantic and poetic about the last stand that has kept authors employed for centuries. There is always the hero swinging away to glory, when all those around die, safe in the knowledge that truth and justice are on his side or that someone would come riding down ala Gandalf in Helm’s Deep to rescue him. What however gets swept down under the mass of bodies that lie piled up during a last stand, is the brutality of war and the motivation of those making the last stand.
Legend, by David Gemmell is the story of one such last stand. Set in the kingdom of Drenai, the frontier outpost castle of Dros Delnoch, is all that stands between the raging hordes of the Nadir tribe, united for the first time in their history under a formidable general, Ulric and the unprepared Drenai army. Dros Delnoch, a formidable fortress, however has seen better time. While the fortress itself is nigh impregnable, the men manning the fortress however are not. Underequipped, undermanned and poorly led, the fortress seems ripe for the plucking. Cometh the hour, Cometh the man. The man, is a legend, Druss the Deathwalker. A man who was responsible for singlehandedly turning the tide of the last battle. An old man who knows if he goes to Dros Delnoch, he goes to his death. And still he goes. At the other end of the scale is Rek. A warrior who has managed to stay alive because he is afraid and knows when to quit. However, he is drawn into this improbable situation for a woman (what else?) and now has to fight not only to save his life and conquer his fear but for the damsel in distress too
However, what distinguishes, Legend from the other run-of-the-mill stories, are the characters and their motivations as well as the brutality of war. Gemmell does not shy away from presenting the face of war which is normally glossed over. The fighting is brutal, bloody and gut wrenching (literally and figuratively). No quarter given and none asked for. There is no gracefulness in the fighting, its about survival and only survival. Its about watching your best friends die in front of your eyes with their guts spilling out.
As mentioned earlier, normally the warriors are fighting for a cause. Its different in this case. Druss fights because that’s the only thing he has done all his life. Anywhere there was a fight, he has been there. While quite not a mercenary, Druss fights for the love of a fight rather than a cause. Rek has always known when to quit in battle and made a name for himself as a sagacious warrior. However, this time he fights on despite knowing that the situation is hopeless. Ulric is another intriguing character. The Nadir had been conquered by the Drenai ages ago and now their strength in ascendancy, they want it all and are astutely led by Ulric. To call Ulric the villain of the story would be unfair though a fairly bitter Ulric does mention “ If I take the castle over all the corpses, history will remember me as a villain”
A gripping, action packed narrative, Gemmell packs quite a punch. Dros Delnoch, the fortress, draws inspiration from Gondor, with its concentric walls. Gemmell does a brilliant job in naming the walls and is very apt. He does offer a minor cop-out in the end but that was something along expected lines. In short, Legend is a good old Swords & Sorcery book driven by strong characters that enable it to be distinguished from other similar books