Waylander by David Gemmell

(9.0/10) Gemmell writes fantasy wonderfully well.

Waylander, published in 1986, was David Gemmell's third book. Once again set in the land of the Drenai in which Gemmell brings us his best known anti-hero, Waylander.

The King of the Drenai is dead and troops are invading the Drenai lands killing men, women and children. The hopes of the Drenai are with one man - Waylander - the traitor who killed the King. Waylander must travel deep into Nadir lands to recover the legendary Armour of Bronze with which he can turn the tide and save the land of the Drenai.

After bringing us Druss the Legend Gemmell changes tack and brings us an anti-hero in Waylander. Strangely enough, this makes Waylander a more sympathetic character and in my opinion a far better character. A recurring theme in Gemmell's work is of the character who once had an idylic life, wife and children but evil men came and killed the character's family and all that is left are closed shells who kill without mercy. Waylander is one such man.

"The monster watched from the shadows as the armed men, torches aloft, entered the darkness of the mountain. He backed away as they advanced, keeping his huge bulk from the glare.
The men made their way to a rough-hewn chamber and placed the torches in rusty iron brackets on the granite walls.
At the centre of the twenty-strong group was a figure in armour of bronze, which caught the torch-light and seemed to blaze like fashioned flames. He removed his winged helm and two retainers erected a wooden skeletal frame. The warrior placed the helm atop the frame and unbuckled his breastplate. He was past middle age, but still strong - his hair thinning, his eyes squinting in the flickering light.
He passed the armoured breastplate to a retainer who laid it on the frame, rebuckling the straps."
Prologue: Waylander

In Gemell's debut novel Legend, he mentions the characters the Egel and Karnak as legends of distant times and the warrior monks named The Thirty play a part in both books. The events in Waylander are set before the events of Legend but as no dates are given, it is hard to say for sure when. The forming of The Thirty happens in this tale and it a very important and enjoyable part of the story, particularly the tale of Dardalion, the first warrior monk.

"Moving forward silently he came up behind the man, slipping the noose over his head and jerking it tight. He fell back, scrabbling at the noose, but Waylander pulled him from his feet and dragged him across the hollow to a tall elm. Swiftly he hurled the rope over a branch some ten feet from the ground and hauled the struggling man to his feet. The attacker's eyes were bulging and his face above his dark beard was purple."
Chapter 13: Waylander

There is a feeling of hopelessness and despair surrounding this tale but Gemmell also shows a softer side. There are genuinely touching moments where he shows that he has a great feel for character study.

This is an entertaining story of love and redemption in a land in turmoil and ravaged by war. There are no safe places. A fast-paced adventure in which Dardalion, Danyal and Waylander all make engaging characters in a story that makes you care and holds you until the end. Gemmell near his best.

"While the men shrank, their skin hanging in flapping folds, the wolves stretched, paws swelling into fur-covered fingers, nails darkening and curving into talons. Rib-cages expanded, bloated with new muscle; shoulders formed and the creatures loomed upright, dropping to the ground what appeared to be wizened sacks of old bones."
Chapter 18: Waylander

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