Review: Waylander

Waylander by David Gemmell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can you put a price on redemption?

The King is dead, and thousands are set to follow him. The Drenai are swept into the tides of war. Enemy soldiers sweep across the country, butchering man, woman and babe. It is a dark time, and dark work is at play.

Dardalion is a man of the light, a dying light in the dark days. But, he must confront evil, and to face it he will have to confront the darkness within all men and women.

Karnak is a hero, a beacon of hope in the night. He kindles fire in the hearts of men and women, but his ambition burns brighter than the sun – and there is only room for one sun in the sky.

But there is only one who can save all of the Drenai. He stands between light and dark, a shadow, a remnant of what he once was. But can he be trusted to save them?

For he is an assassin – a traitor – the man who killed the king.

He is Waylander.

The Good: strong characters (and not just the titular Waylander), solid but simple plot, allowing for the reader to judge the action(s) without being led by the hand.

The Bad: As with other Gemmell works Waylander skims on the trimming of finer detail, though not to the detriment of the plot.

The Ugly Truth: Shades of grey with anti-heroes aplenty, a gritty tale of consequence and redemption earned or abandoned. The key to Waylander’s greatest success is that Gemmell doesn’t tell the reader whether the characters (titular including) are good or bad, he allows the reader to judge for themselves. Comparisons to more recent heroic-fantasy can be drawn to Waylander, and Gemmell being the big daddy of the sub-genre, this is definitely worth a read!

Waylander is the third novel that David Gemmell wrote in the Drenai series. Set before his debut ‘Legend’, Waylander provides a legacy to Gemmell’s later works. As with other works by the author, the theme of redemption runs strong throughout, and though good and evil are at odds, the shades of grey divide the battlefields.

The main drive, as with all of Gemmell’s novels, is the characterisation. From the Priest Dardalion who battles with his will to do good, to the General and war-hero Karnak, each and every soul in this book is well fleshed. That’s actually a good way of putting it. Soul. That’s what each of Gemmell’s characters embodies. They aren’t just fictional marionettes toyed with for the readers’ pleasure. They live, they breathe, they fight, love and laugh. They have soul. And, that is why I love Gemmell.

…and that’s without even tackling the title character! Waylander is the anti-hero to Gemmell’s Druss the Legend. But, Waylander’s tragedy and choices, in my eyes, make him a richer character in some respects. He doesn’t just earn his place in reader’s hearts, he fights for it.

Gemmell has always written with a sharpened quill, crisp and quick. The story is fast paced and action packed, keeping the reader hooked throughout. There’s little room to catch a breath, and the first time I read Waylander, there was little room for me to sleep seeing as I finished it in a single day and night.

As stated earlier, Waylander is set years before Legend. But, the novel sets up a legacy for the later book in the series, namely the warrior priest sect The Thirty, and Karnak. These extra touches, weaves and webs to a fully envisioned world, add an epic scale to the Drenai saga, creating a fully realised world that, though fictional, feels lived in. Nay, alive.

There are small evils and small goods to all men and women. We’re human after all. But being human, we do wrong and we do right. Gemmell was an author that explored the limited strengths of the human being, and showed us what it was like to be a man or a woman (and no, I’m not assuming there are two genders). Gemmell, and Waylander, provokes the thought of how do you set the standard for idols, role models, and heroes.

After reading Waylander, as a teen the first time and as a grown man time and time again, I for one have questioned the type of human I want to be – and I think other readers will, too.

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