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A bit of a « Gemmell feel and touch » with something more?
on 29 January 2014
A number of other reviewers on both the US and the UK site who are familiar with the late David Gemmell's works of heroic fantasy have detected a number of similarities in this book, and, for those that read all three books together, in the whole trilogy. One of the most obvious parallels is between Gemmell's Druss the Axeman and Nathan Hawke's Corvin Screambreaker. A few others have also drawn parallels between Gallow, the main character of this book, and one of Joe Abercrombie's character (Logen Ninefingers).
There are indeed a number of similarities, but these only go so far, and there are also significant differences which help to make this piece into a rather original one and a superb and exciting "page-turner".
With regards to the two main characters, and starting with Corvin Screambreaker, he does resemble Gemmell's Druss to some extent. Both are strong, superb and ageing warriors. However, while Druss may be at times a leader and is essentially a fighter, Corvin is also a general, a strategist, a master tactician, the right-hand man and the long time, loyal and trusted friend of the King of Lhosir. He, more than anyone else, is the one who conquered Marroc and therefore more than doubled the size of his King's kingdom. At times, he also reminded me of Gemmell's Banelion, the White Wolf (who was loosely modelled on Parmenion, the top general of both Philip II and Alexander of Macedon) in Winter Warriors. Corvin seems to be a mix of the two characters.
The other main character - Gallow - owes less to Gemmell. In some respects, he may not be very original since the theme of the former elite warrior who became tired of killing, settled down and founded a family before being inevitably pulled back into a new war is hardly novel. However, the character is made human and likeable through a couple of features related to his divided loyalties. Having renounced the way of the warrior and shaved his forkbeard, he has become an outcast living among the recently conquered Marroc who resent him, fear him and barely accept him. This he did for the love of his Marroc wife (with whom he fights constantly), although he yearns at times for his warrior life and friends and is somewhat torn between his old and his new identity.
Another interesting set of features is the novel's context. The Marroc seem to be loosely inspired by the Saxons, except that if you take a look at the map, you will see that the Marroc coast vaguely resembles that of North Africa. The Forkbeards are more clearly derived from the Scandinavians/Vikings of the Dark Ages, although here again, the comparison is not entirely meaningful. The Forkbeards seem to be some kind of "idealised" Norse/Swede/Danes who, in reality, were much more "sensible" warriors who thought nothing of running away to fight another day if the odds were obviously against them. The Forkbeards are, unlike the historical "Vikings" (used here as `shorthand" for the three above-mentioned groups), always ready to fight regardless of the odds, supremely confident in their tremendous battle skills, and seemingly utterly fearless.
Two other people either take centre stage in this book or as mentioned as part of the general background. The first are the nomadic Vathen. I could not quite find the historical nomad "horse lords" from which they are derived and there are several possibilities including, for instance, the Scythians or the Huns. The second people, who do not appear explicitly in this book but are often referred to because of the remnants of their previous Empire (including their roads and bridges), are the Aulians, Romans and the Roman Empire come to mind.
Finally, there is the story itself, which I will refrain from telling. Suffice is to say that the book is fast-paced, with plenty of action and at least one rather extraordinary rendered battle towards the end that made me think of Thermopylae with a sort of "happy and different ending". Four strong stars for a quite superb start of what I am very likely to find a fascinating trilogy.