Old Sins Cast Long Shadows in the Fantasy Fiction of David Gemmell


The English proverb 'Old Sins Cast Long Shadows' could easily serve as a motto for the fantasy novels of David Gemmell. In a number of his best-loved tales, the tension that erupts on the battlefield in such epic fashion, or in one-to-one combat featuring real personal hostility, has had its gestation over decades if not centuries, and this longevity adds extra narrative richness to his stories. Nothing helps a grudge to ripen like the passage of time!


In some of David Gemmell's novels the strain of old feuds takes place within the course of a single lifetime. These resentments fester within an individual breast until it's all too much and they boil over. For example, in 'Waylander II: In The Realm Of The Wolf' the hero has been living under an assumed name for decades. He's lived quietly in the mountains as a woodsman and has raised a daughter. The arrival of an assassin to kill Waylander forces him to admit the truth to Miriel. He has alot to answer for in having concealed his true identity, his history and even the fact that she's not his daughter at all. He rescued her when she was very young. Waylander's wish to start afresh and build a new life for both of them lies at the heart of his deception. Miriel's feisty enough to draw blood from the assassins when they arrive. Father and daughter then flee north, trying to escape a past that has brutally caught up with Waylander and which will continue to pursue them relentlessly.


Another David Gemmell story that explores the relationship between father and daughter in the face of terrible secrets long concealed is the novella 'The Hawk Queen'. Ironhand comes to Sigarni as a ghost, sharing the truth now that it is finally safe to do so and nurturing her in a leadership role as future queen. At long last, Sigarni will seize her birthright and lead her people into a brighter tomorrow.


'The King Beyond The Gate' is a Drenai novel. Here the narrative drive is supplied by a situation that has been ripening over the course of two generations rather than one, so that the key relationship is between the memory of an unforgivingly critical grandfather and his grandson. A century has past since the heroic defence of Dros Delnoch. Tenaka Khan is the estranged grandson of two leaders who were enemies: the Earl of Bronze and the invincible warlord Ulric. This contradiction, since it was the marriage of his parents in accordance with the terms of an uneasy truce between the old foes that led to his birth, means the poor man isn't really welcome anywhere. The conflict between Drenai and Nadir is inherent in Tenaka Khan's very existence, and at one point he even says that death haunts him and he is a curse to all who love him. Things do improve for him: the action presents Tenaka with the unexpected opportunity to befriend and empower his cousin Scaler to become Earl of Dros Delnoch, and for Tenaka to find love and happiness at last.


Of course, sins can linger unresolved for far longer than a century. The distance between sin and payoff is extended far longer in 'The Legend of Deathwalker'. Druss the Legend, late in life, rides in search of the fabled Eyes of Alchazzar to help heal an old adversary. He's not alone in the quest for the Eyes: on the road he meets young general Talisman and the granddaughter of Chorin-Tsu, Zhusai. Talisman and Zhusai fall in love, a fact made all the more touching by the fact that they are reincarnations of two lovers centuries earlier, whose spirits died far apart and have been searching for each other ever since. In this case, the emergence of old injustices that have kept true loves apart is welcome. It gives them another chance to be together in the current world in the kind of heartwarming and satisfying story that Gemmell does so well.


The existence of unresolved sins and feuds, often lingering for decades, centuries or even millennia are an integral and welcome feature of the writings of fantasy author David Gemmell. These provide a belated opportunity for justice to be done, and the longer the tensions and conflicts have been growing, the more powerful their resolution as the plot unfolds.


My next post is on Monday. In the meantime, the comments section is open. Many thanks to Alexander Jawfox, Mimipic and Yang Deng for providing the images for this post via Unsplash.

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