Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Book Review: The City by Stella Gemmell

David Gemmell has been my favourite fantasy author since the early 1980s when I picked up his first book, Legend. When David Gemmell died a few years back I more or less gave up reading fantasy and have concentrated on Science Fiction, Steampunk and Spy thrillers since then. However I occasionally get the urge to dip my toe back into the fantasy genre and I am often disappointed when I do. So I had mixed feelings when I spotted The City by Stella Gemmell. The author is David Gemmell's widow and had worked with DG on several of his books, completing his last book after he died. So the connection was made, and I felt I wanted to see if there was anything of the quality of Mr Gemmell's writing in his wife's work.

The City is not your straightforward fantasy novel, in fact for much of the story their are very few hints of anything supernatural or indeed fantastic, about it... It reads more as a standard historical novel. Don't let that fool you, the fantastical elements are certainly there and they do have a pivotal role in the story, however many of the characters within the story, are not even aware of these elements. Quite a lot of the story takes place in the "under-city" a world of sewers, lost chambers, death and decay. Although the people that populate the underworld are the lost souls of the city, either hiding from the authorities or simply scrabbling to maintain an existence. It soon becomes clear that there is some twisted kind of comfort and safety to be found down there for many of the inhabitants. When the story switches to view the battle fields of the the many wars that the city is fighting, we soon miss the life in the under-city.

Through all of this colourful travelogue,  it soon becomes apparent that there are plots hatching, both from within the City walls and from those nations that are at war with it.

At times this is not an easy book to read. The tendency to jump from one story to another with very little warning, sometimes years later is disconcerting and can be quite jarring. However, in some ways it actually adds something to the book.

I am not certain I will follow Stella Gemmell's career the way I followed her husband, but I must say, this is an excellent first solo novel.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Book Review: The Iron Wolves by Andy Remic

Andy Remic's last fantasy trilogy was often touted as an homage to David Gemmell and it is fair to say, the comparisons were easily drawn. However, with The Iron Wolves he has taken it to the next level.

The story revolves around a group of veteran warriors (all heroes from wars fought over twenty years ago) who are drawn out of retirement to face a new evil that has arisen. Now if that doesn't sound like Gemmell, add in the fact that all of these warriors are flawed physiologically and have led less that saintly lives since their former glory has faded from memory and I think you will see that the comparisons are easily drawn. To top it all off an important part of the evil that has arisen is the use of creatures called the Splice, which are a magically fused combination of men and either horses, wolves or occasionally lions. Now if that isn't reminicent of Gemmell's Joinings, nothing is...

Ok, so from the tone of this so far it may sound like I am about to completely rip the book to shreds, but I'm not. It is well known that Gemmell was a big influence on Remic. So it is only natural that his fantasy novels fit in to a similar sub-genre of writing  (could this be a modern take on Sword and Sorcery, rather than the bland high fantasy that has been turned out in recent years). Obviously now that David Gemmell is no longer with us, fans of his work have to seek their fix elsewhere and with this new series Remic has made a worthy attempt to pick up the baton.

Around three quarters of the way through the book I did have a bit of trouble empathizing with any of the main characters, and in places it did feel a bit like Gemmell written while inhaling some rather dubious substances, but generally speaking, as we can't get any more David Gemmell fiction this is a worthy substitute.

I must say I am looking forward to the second book!

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