Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Book review: Stormrider


David Gemmell

(Bantam Press, 2002)

An interesting quality of David Gemmell's work is the addictive quality it has. As I've probably mentioned at some point, I once read all 11 of his Drenai novels in a row, and after finishing I'd quite happily have started all over again. There's just something about his novels that inspire genuine involvement on behalf of the reader, and it's easy to become addicted to his unique brand of storytelling. So after finishing Ravenheart, I figured I'd just jump straight into the final novel in the Rigante quartet - Stormrider.

The novel picks up the story some four years after the events of Ravenheart. The prospect of civil war between the King's forces and the Covenanters (only briefly alluded to towards the end of the previous novel) has now exploded into a grim, brutal reality. As it becomes ever more apparent that the ruthless Winter Kay and his zealous Knights of the Sacrifice are bending the course of the war to their own sinister ends, the Rigante and the Moidart - two sworn enemies - find themselves allied to a common cause.

At the centre of this bloodbath are Gaise Macon, the Moidart's son, and Kaelin Ring, now a respected member of the Rigante. Both are heroes in their own right and share a common ancestor, yet they are enemies and struggle to fight alongside each other. And as the war reaches its height, one of them is forced to make a terrible sacrifice to ensure the birth of a new world...

As with all of Gemmell's work, Stormrider is driven by its characters. Some old faces re-appear, alongside one or two new ones. Gemmell was always fascinated by the idea of redemption and the darkness that lurks in men's souls, and this is reflected in the character of Gaise Macon. The son of the Moidart struggles against his inner demons, and as the war turns against him, it's fascinating to wonder which Gaise Macon will triumph - the noble, dashing young cavalry officer, or the cold, ruthless killer of men. As always, you know pretty well how things will pan out, but this doesn't detract from the emotional impact of the ending (and what a good ending it is).

The Moidart really comes to the fore in Stormrider, and subsequently goes down as one of Gemmell's best characters. Gemmell shows wonderful skill at taking a man you think you know everything about, and then reinventing him. The process of the change to the Moidart's character is subtle and extremely well handled. Gemmell imbues this man with such sorrow and pain, that despite his obvious failings he's still a figure that inspires sympathy. His transformation, in the end, is very satisfying indeed.

Characters aside, Stormrider has the usual enjoyable mix of battles and adventure. The emergence of a powerful magical relic adds a further dimension and enables Gemmell to make use of a number of supernatural devices that were a staple of the Drenai novels. Like all Gemmell novels, various themes are explored deftly (this time around, we have redemption, the futility of war, and the question of whether evil is ever justified) without hindering the novel's plotting or pacing.

Quibbles are few and far between. You could argue that with the exception of Maeve Ring, the novel lacks a strong female character. Some might also find that the novel wears its influences a little too brazenly (Stormrider is very clearly based on the English Civil War, much as the earlier Rigante novels are undeniably based on the conquests of Ancient Rome) but this wasn't a problem for me. In fact, in Midnight Falcon it is revealed that the war being fought is in fact being mirrored on other worlds by similar factions, one of which is directly named as Rome. You could therefore argue that any clear connection to history in the Rigante novels was deliberate on Gemmell's part, as he seems to have viewed his worlds as being part of a larger multiverse that included Earth.

Probably the weakest aspect of the novel is the fact that Gemmell somewhat reverts to type and creates a climax based around his favoured defenders-facing-impossible-odds scenario. For me this didn't spoil my enjoyment of the novel at all, but admittedly the whole situation did seem rather familiar (as I've probably mentioned before, this plot device was used by Gemmell numerous times throughout his writing career).

Verdict: Not up there with his finest novels (in fact, out of the four Rigante novels I'd place it third in terms of quality, behind Midnight Falcon and Ravenheart) but still a solid novel, that encompasses the best elements of Gemmell's work. While at times certain elements seem over-familiar, Stormrider is an entertaining and meaningful read, with strong characters and an absorbing mix of magic, battles and political intrigue.


cdublu said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Iain said...

I know exactly what you mean when you write that we know what to expect of David Gemmell and for me that just adds to the enjoyment when reading his novels.

The sequence where the Moidart takes out the assassins that have been sent to murder him is a fantastic passage of thebook, or indeed when the 'golden-eyed Rigante' brings about the end of one of the main evil characters are two of my favourite parts of the book. You can see the reveal in the Moidart/assassin scene coming but don't care. However, the golden-eyed Rigante scene fooled me completely and left me with a big, dumb, grin on my face.

I find it hard to believe that I read Legend back in 1986 when I was a snotty 13 yr old. Gemmell was the first fantasy author that I ever read, even before Tolkien. There is a big, gaping hole in the field that he left behind.

I am glad to say, and this is only on the strength of his one novel, Peter V Brett gets really close to Gemmell heaven with The Painted Man. Mind you my fellow Antrim man Paul Kearney did a damn, fine job last year with The Ten Thousand.

Mmm off to go through the boxes in my attic. Time to reacquaint myself with Druss, or Waylander,or perhaps Skillgannon.

James said...

Iain - great post. Yeah, with Gemmell you generally knew what to expect...and that just added to the enjoyment.

The Moidart/assassin scene was cool, agreed. Love the Moidart, he was such a brilliant character. One of Gemmell's best in my opinion.

God, my memory is terrible...I can't even remember the twist with the Golden Eyed Rigante bit. I recall it was meant to be Gaise Macon, but wasn't...was it? Perhaps you could remind me! I remember thinking "Ah, that's clever..."

Yep, there's a huge hole left by Gemmell's passing. It's not been filled yet, perhaps it never will. No one writes like him. But yes, Kearney is a fine writer and has echoes of Gemmell in his work. Not read the Painted Man yet, will do at some point.

Francisco Norega said...

I really have to read this Rigante Series!
I must convince my mom to buy some books in amazon xD And I mudt convince myself that I can read Gemmel in English, hm.

Iain said...

Cheers,James. Yep, I went through the whole book thinking it was supo
posed to be Gaise. I cannot remember the character's name but he was a Rigante without a clan. Therefore, he didn't wear a brooch with a clan insignia on it, just a plain gold one instead which looked like a golden eye. Cue shocked bad guy as he is skewered by the character (who may have had his hand cut off at that stage if I remember correctly) and a totally delighted me as David Gemmell for the nth time left me grinning with joy at his plotting and story-telling.