Top critical review
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Familiar territory, but still entertaining
on 22 March 2001
Being a big Gemmell fan, it came as a big surprise to me that I had to make three attempts to get into this story. The first two times I put it down and didn't some back to it in time. Perhaps this indicates a lack of pace in the opening chapters.
Having now finished the whole book, I find I have mixed feelings about it, hence the slightly meagre three-star rating. On the plus side, DG successfully conjures the atmosphere of a dying empire and the arrogance of the ruling Avatars who refuse to accept the inevitable decline that is facing them. There are many of the characters familiar to Gemmell readers: Talaban, the Haunted Warrior, Rael, The Elder Stategist and so on. But none of them are cardboard stereotypes. And Viruk the Madman is a masterpiece of characterization. The pace in the last third of the book as events move to their climax is blistering, and kept me up to the wee hours of the morning.
But all the way through, I had the definite feeling that we had been here before. A plucky band of men and women must fight for survival against a clearly superior foe with only their guile and courage to aid them...We've walked these paths before with DG. Although this one does have an extra spin to it (thanks largely, I suspect, to Fingerprints of the Gods), the science-fiction trappings can't hide the plot that we saw in Dark Moon, Knights of Dark Renown, and all the way back to Legend.
That said, even a below par Gemmell is very entertaining, and makes an effective antidote to those interminable three-volume quest fantasies. And if the plot is good enough for George Lucas....
I wouldn't recommend this as an introduction to Gemmell, as it is not typical of him. But hardcore fans who approach it expecting tight, concise writing, sharply observed characterisation and emotion filled drama will not be disappointed.