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Monday, April 24, 2017

Legend (1984) by David Gemmell

Druss, the Legend 
Book Review
Legend (1984)
by David Gemmell

  I actually had to buy this book off of Amazon because the Los Angeles Public Library System doesn't own a copy.  I received a vintage Del Rey paperback- the kind associated with the lower levels of genre fiction, fantasy and science fiction in particular.  There is nothing about the paperback copy of Legend by David Gemmell that would seem to indicate greatness- it's got a picture of Druss, the Legend in question, swinging his battle axe, about to decapitate a barbarian.

   David Gemmell was an English journalist turned genre fiction writer, with a heavy emphasis on military stories involving vaguely non-politically correct Asiatic type hoards and conspicuously white Anglo Saxon/Scandinavian types waging heroic battles against said hoards.  To his credit, and probably the reason that Legend is the sole representative of the genre that Americans would recognizes as "Conan the Barbarian" type adventures, is Gemmell's grasp of the underlying mythical elements of real world history.   Although Legend contains some mildly explicit sex and highly explicit violence that marks it as a book published in the late 20th century, it is otherwise timeless, and could have been written at any time in the past hundred or so years.

  Gemmell obviously had (he dies in 2006) a firm grasp on both history, mythology and the study of both, and he was obviously familiar with Conan (first appeared in the 1930's in American magazines featuring pulp fiction) and his barbarian prodigy.   Part of the fun of Legend is spotting the influences.  Despite all of it's some fantastical flourishes, limited mostly to the presence of dueling psych warrior-monks within its pages, Legend is almost an alternative- earth history, set in the early Middle Ages, along the lines of a "last stand" narrative, like the Alamo.  

  To give one notable example, two characters enjoy a nice glass of orange juice together at the beginning of chapter one.  The biology and physics appear to be the same as that on Earth, there are no non-human sentient creatures and no fantastical beasts.

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