Heroic fantasy revisited: the Drenai saga by David Gemmell

‘I tend to concentrate on courage, loyalty, love and redemption,’ David Gemmell once said. ‘I believe in these things. I refuse to be cynical about the world, and I won’t join the sneerers or the defeatists.’

Gemmell, widely regarded as Britain’s ‘king of heroic fantasy’, imbued his characters with the same attitude and defiance. His classic Drenai series is full of charismatic figures who refuse to accept defeat in the face of impossible odds and overwhelming danger, who strive to do what is right rather than what is easy. Druss the Legend, his most famous creation, is the embodiment of this indomitable spirit: an old man who just wants to be left alone in solitude, he overcomes the ravages of time and leads the heroic defence of Dross Delnoch against hordes of invaders, despite knowing his inspiration carries a deadly price. The pages of the pacy, action-packed Drenai novels are full of such examples of self-sacrifice and heroism.

The flawed natures of these protagonists and their struggles for redemption, is what makes them so endearing and timeless. Although Gemmell’s novels are unashamedly black and white – “If you add too much grey, all you end up with is a grey novel,” he once said – his characters are mostly far more complex. The deadly assassin Waylander, for example, is introduced as a callous, cold-hearted killer – yet as his story progresses, he fights the darkness in his own soul and eventually earns redemption for his past atrocities. It’s the personal struggles of these characters, and their moments of self-doubt and self-sacrifice, that struck a chord with millions of readers all over the world and turned the Drenai books into fantasy classics.

Gemmell’s masterly grasp of characterisation was matched by his ability to write thrilling action scenes, which developed from his upbringing in a tough area of London. ‘I grew up with men of violence,’ he said. ‘I understand men of violence. It means that when I write action scenes and when I have violent characters, I have a very strong feel for that.’  This experience resulted in some of the most thrilling and visceral battles ever written in fantasy literature. Whether it’s Druss swinging his mighty axe on the walls of Dross Delnoch, or Waylander being hunted by nightmarish creatures in a shadowy forest, Gemmell’s action sequences are packed with drama and tension.

The Times recently listed David Gemmell as the third biggest-selling UK ‘adult fantasy’ author of all time, citing his UK sales of 1.5 million. With all six of his classic Drenai novels now available with brand-new covers that really capture the blood and thunder of the tales within, now is the perfect time to discover one of UK fantasy’s greatest writers.

Heroism and heartbreak . . . Gemmell is adrenaline with soul’ – Brent Weeks

‘The hard-bitten champion of British heroic fantasy’ – Joe Abercrombie