Sorry for just the one post this week, I have been out playing Pokemon Go. However, I assume none of you noticed there was only one post as you were also too busy out playing Pokemon go. Anyway here is part 2 of the Drenai read along, if you missed part one you can find it here.
Book 4 – The Quest for Lost Heroes – Man what a terrible cover. This book took a distinct tonal shift compared to the previous three. While each novel in this series is tragic and heartbreaking, this novel was a touch more despair inducing. The Quest for Lost Heroes once again takes a huge chronological jump, this time forward, and takes place a short while after the second book, The King Beyond the Gate. This is the first novel to feature some recurring characters, but still introduces us to a large cast. The book follows a group of heroes (unknown to us) who became famous in a minor battle at the end of book two. While in retirement, the heroes play witness to a kidnapping of innocent villagers and decide to set out on one final quest to save them from slavers.
Nothing good happens to anyone in this novel, but it embodies the ideology of “bent but not broken.” The cast of this tale shows what it means to experience trauma and disaster and then to get up and keep going; it is quite moving. On his 4th set of distinct and memorable characters, I was still incredibly impressed at Gemmell’s ability to craft a deep and interesting cast. I can identify and talk about each of the 20+ protagonists I have encountered so far as they were so memorable. It was also at this point where I changed my mind on Gemmell’s worldbuilding in The Drenai Saga. As I mentioned in Legend, the worldbuilding felt incomplete and haphazard in book one and I thought it could have been better done. However, in book four I began to realize that Gemmell was simply thinking on a larger scale and timeframe. Each book fits like a puzzle piece into your overall understanding of the Drenai world, giving you more context and understanding of the various countries and their cultures. In addition, while the books do not function as sequels, they have plenty of overlap and foreshadowing that enriches books in both directions (prequels and sequels). The Quest for Lost Heroes adds another piece to the puzzle while also treating you to a fantastic cast that prove you are more than the tragedies you have experienced.
Rating: The Quest for Lost Heroes – 8.5/10
Book 5 – In the Realm of the Wolf: Waylander 2 – Waylander is back! These Drenai books have a strange effect on me. When I am not currently reading one I don’t feel that much desire to start one, but when I am reading one all I can think is “why did I wait so long to start this”. I think the reason for this is the books are all so well self contained that you do not feel like I am missing anything when I reach the end of one. That being said I was super pumped to get back into Waylander. When we left our intrepid antihero after book one, he had retired to a quiet life of solitude with his adoptive daughters and wife. This is of course doomed not to last, with a price being placed on Waylander’s head that entices several younger assassins to try their hand at killing him. As you can guess, this goes poorly for the youngsters. The story eventually evolves as Waylander investigates why there’s suddenly a price on his head and the novel expands to a much bigger plot.
In the Realm of the Wolf stands out to me because it stands as a testament to how good Gemmell’s prose is. Gemmell wants you to think of Waylander as the ultimate assassin, all other fantasy books included, and he sold me on it. The writing makes you think you are hearing the story of someone real and manages to both have Waylander do the impossible and make it seem ordinary for him. He is probably a Gary Sue if I think about it, but Gemmell talks about him in a way that keeps that thought from ever even coming close to you head. Gemmell is convincing, he tells you Waylander is the best, and you should be astounded, and you believe him. The second addition to Waylander’s tale is as good as the first and I highly recommend it.
Rating: In the Realm of the Wolf – 9.5/10
Book 6 – The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend – This title is way too long to repeatedly use so I am going to abbreviate it to TFC. I was, as usual, slightly hesitant to start the next Drenai book as it was about Druss from book one, Legend, where you read the final stories and fate of Druss. It felt like starting a book where I had already read the ending. In Legend, Druss spends some time reflecting on life and talks about some of the things he did and two other quests that he went on. TFC is the story of one of those quests, following an awkward and youthful Druss as he travels the world attempting to rescue his kidnapped wife. The story is about how Druss was forged into the warrior you see in Legend, and it is phenomenal.
This is probably the best Drenai book so far, which honestly surprised me a lot. I usually don’t like prequels but much like In the Realm of the Wolf, Gemmell is really good at using prose to convince you of a warrior’s skill and ability. Druss feels like a monster of a fighter who could stand strong in a fantasy throwdown with any other protagonist, despite being basically just a fairly squat guy with an axe. The book is also heart wrenching and both incredibly sad and bitter sweet. Druss does not have an easy life and the emotional punches are layered in well to help the story be fun, memorable, and deep. Additionally, we continue to expand the Drenai map, fleshing out another country. I am past the halfway point now in the series and that fills me with a certain dread as I only have five books left. I am curious to see if any of them can top this.
Rating: The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend – 9.5/10