Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Gemmell, David A

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(1948-    ) UK writer whose fantasy novels have become extremely popular. His first sequence, the Genre-Fantasy Drenai Saga, comprises: Legend (1984; vt Against the Horde 1988 US), The King Beyond the Gate (1985) and Waylander (1986), all three assembled (with a novella, "Druss the Legend") as Drenai Tales (omni 1991); Quest for Lost Heroes (1990), Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf (1992), The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend (coll 1993) and The Legend of Deathwalker (1996); plus a Graphic Novel, Legend: A Graphic Novel (graph 1993), text by Stan Nicholls, illustrated by Fangorn. The first volume of the sequence, Legend, remains DAG's best-known book, in both original and graphic-novel versions. His strengths as a fantasy author are immediately evident: a technical ability to press ahead with revelation and action at a pace whose intensity can seem at times almost surreal; an interest in depicting Heroes who are weathered, seemingly past their prime, reluctantly but profoundly charismatic; and a focus on bands of Companions – usually Seven-Samurai volunteers attracted by the allure of the hero – engaged in seemingly impossible guerrilla warfare against usurper Dark Lords and/or invading hordes.

Drenai itself is a decadent medieval empire which is in near-terminal decline; succeeding instalments give a sense, at times rather insistent, that the battle against foes is unending, and perhaps unwinnable. In the first volume Druss, a legendary warrior near retirement, gathers a band of companions around him and defends a pass to the death. He is given the ambivalent aid of a Pariah Elite of martial priests with Talents. The empire is saved from the northern barbarians. Further volumes tend to rehearse, with very considerable skill and exhilarating momentum, the same basic tale, though Quest for Lost Heroes varies the mix by featuring a young protagonist who undergoes the normal Rite of Passage into manhood in the company of a much older band of companions, and Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf returns to an earlier figure in the sequence who, now in retirement, must defend himself, with the aid of companions, from a passel of assassins. There are debates inter alia about pacifism, which does not win the argument.

DAG's second sequence is a more complicated affair. The Sipstrassi books, though sharing the same underlying premise and a Fantasy-of-History relationship to our own world, are in fact two separate series. The Jerusalem Man series comprises Wolf in Shadow (1987; vt The Jerusalem Man 1988 US), The Last Guardian (1989) and Bloodstone (1994), all three assembled as The Complete Chronicles of the Jerusalem Man (omni 1995), plus a graphic novel, Wolfe in Shadow: The Graphic Novel (graph 1994), text by Stan Nicholls, illustrated by Fangorn. The Stones of Power sequence comprises Ghost King (1988) and Last Sword of Power (1988).

Chronologically the second of these two sequences, being set in Dark-Age Britain (see Arthur), comes first. The High King of Britain is murdered while the Enchanter Maedhlyn (see Merlin) is away, leaving young Thuro, heir to the throne, in danger. But Maedhlyn is not simply a Magician; he is an immortal (see Immortality), a member of a group of Secret Masters which owes its power to the "Sipstrassi", fragments of a meteor which originally impacted upon Atlantis, and which serve as a focus for Talents. Maedhlyn's nurturing of young Thuro – who grows up to become Uther Pendragon – is part of the Secret Masters' long campaign against the powers of darkness, all of whom long to obtain sole use of the Sipstrassi and rule the world. The Dark Lord in this instance is a combined Moloch and Wotan (see Odin).

The Jerusalem Man tales, by contrast, are post-Holocaust, set some 300 years after the Earth's axis has tilted, and feature the obsessed Jon Shannow, a Bible-reading Childe figure locked into a Quest for Jerusalem, where he hopes for surcease from the ravaged world. There are sf elements in the sequence – 20th-century artifacts, including both guns and the Titanic, tend to reappear whenever needed – but the underlying involvement of the Secret Masters from Atlantis gives a Technofantasy gloss to that which is not treated, fairly straightforwardly, in terms of Rationalized Fantasy. Shannow is identified, by one of the Secret Masters, as a Rolynd (i.e., Childe Roland) from Atlantis. In their long war to maintain Balance over Chaos, he comes to play a significant role, first destroying the armies of Devil-worshipping victims of wrongly used Sipstrassi stones and finally tricking the Dark Lord into a Time-Travel quest to 1945, where he is incinerated at Alamogordo.

DAG's next series, the Macedon sequence – Lion of Macedon (1990) and Dark Prince (1991) – invokes the Sipstrassi stones briefly in a story set in Greece in the 4th century BC. Alexander the Great is supernaturally linked to the forces of Chaos, and the second volume carries him and his general – the series' main protagonist – into an Alternate World dominated by the Chaos Lord. Good triumphs. The Pallides SagaIronhand's Daughter (1995) and The Hawk Eternal (1995) with a further volume projected – features a female protagonist, and so far has a Heroic-Fantasy air. DAG's only singleton of interest, Knights of Dark Renown (1989), again features an ageing warrior, a band of companions and a threat to the land.

It cannot be denied that mechanical effects sometimes drown out the original elements in DAG's work; at the same time, the grit and speed of his best tales override almost any reader's initial reluctance to be borne away. He is one of the central entertainers of the genre. [JC]

other works: Morningstar (1992), a YA fantasy; White Knight, Black Swan (1993) as by Ross Harding, a gangster thriller.

David Andrew Gemmell


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.