Drenai part four, the Drenale. We have come to the end of our journey, and what a journey it has been. The final two Drenai books are a duology about a new character, Skilgannon the Damned. Skilgannon is Gemmell’s take on a hero tormented by his past, and a wrap up character to tie off the entirety of the series. So let’s talk about the final two books of the series: White Wolf and The Swords of Night and Day.
Book 10 – White Wolf – The story of Skilgannon begins with him abandoning his people and becoming a rogue warrior. Haunted by his choices as the preeminent general of a warrior queen, Skilgannon decides to leave everything behind and search for inner peace in the world. Skilgannon is less than successful in his search for tranquility, and is soon thrust back into the center of happenings. He eventually meets up with Druss, and they team up to go on a quest.
The story has many strengths, but one of my favorites is how Gemmell depicts Skilgannon’s childhood. On top of being compelling and heartwarming, Gemmell continues to hammer home the concepts of acceptance and love for all people regardless of who they are or where they come from. In addition, I found Skilgannon to be a refreshing take on the tormented hero front. He feels crippling regret for his past actions, and but he does not wallow in it. It is very easy to see how that regret profoundly changes and shapes Skilgannon, but Gemmell never falls into the trap of making him whine about what he did every two seconds. Skilgannon remains a deeper character than just his remorse, and it makes him one of the best tormented heroes I have read.
Rating: White Wolf – 9.0/10
Book 11 – The Swords of Night and Day – The final book of Drenai is very different than the other 10. This is both the final book chronologically and in publishing order, taking place over a thousand years later than the other novels. Swords follows a magically resurrected Skilgannon, brought back from the dead to fight a rising menace in the future. The magics, and the magic users, from the earlier books have gotten more and more degenerate over the years until they threaten to engulf the world. As a last ditch effort, a small group of mages attempt to resurrect heroes from past ages to see if they can provide solutions to stopping the magic.
The Swords of Light and Day serves three major purposes in the Drenai saga, the first of which is to give a satisfying end to Skilgannon’s story. Tormented for his sins from White Wolf, Skilgannon has been burning in purgatory and seeking redemption. Swords gives Skilgannon a great ending and cements him in my mind as one of the best characters to come out of the saga. The second purpose is to bring together many different plot lines and characters throughout the entire saga. Much of Drenai consists of independent characters from different ages, and Swords brings many of them together for one last party. The final, and likely most important, purpose of Swords is to reaffirm the cyclical nature of history that Gemmell has been preaching since Legend. The final book of the series shows that nothing really ever changes and there will always be shitty tyrants who will try to selfishly rule the world. However, the book also drives home that for every dictator that tries to rule the world, there will always be a hero who stands in their way – no matter how feeble it may seem. Those heroes will keep standing up for what’s right and striving to make the world a better place regardless of the odds, and that through the act of standing up they make a difference. This message is the crux of the Drenai story, and it is one I can get behind with all my heart.
Rating: The Swords of Night and Day – 9.0/10
Reading the Drenai Saga is an incredible experience that I think every fantasy fan should go through. Gemmell is an exemplar of character building, heroic storytelling, and powerful sub-themes that I think every author could earn from. The man wrote the most compelling prologues I have ever read, sucking me into each book by page four every time. Despite each of the books following similar plot structure, having a chaotic timeline, and introducing a new cast every few books, I never got tired of them or felt fatigued by the story. It is easy to see how Gemmell has shaped the current fantasy landscape, as hundreds of authors try to emulate his exciting, touching, and deep characters. My favorite book ended up being the one I thought I would like least, The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend, but I enjoyed every single book in the saga more than most of the other things I have read this year. There are hundreds of quotes from the series now embedded in my memory, and I want to sell this series to every person I meet. If you have not had a chance to read Drenai, I highly recommend you do and find out why a generation of authors turn to it for inspiration.