The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend by David Gemmell

Let’s kick off this review with two incontrovertible facts. The first is I reckon every book by David Gemmell is at least a good ‘un. The second is that I also reckon that The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend is probably the weakest book in the Drenai Saga, which makes it no more than a good ‘un.

There are two questions arising from that paragraph which prevents it from being the whole review. The first is from people who don’t know Gemmell or the Drenai, the second from those who do.

For the former, David Gemmell wrote heroic fantasy of an ethically probing, very humane, and gore-drenched nature. The Drenai were his chief creation – think loosely faux-medieval and loosely parallel to earth cultures, bent into whatever shape suited Gemmell’s stories – and Druss the chief hero of that creation. There were two Druss books written before Gemmell revisited the character and told the story of how a woodcutter high in the mountains became the man known simply as Legend.

The main three answers, to give you a taste of what awaits you if you pick up this book, are:

a) An innately confrontational and combative nature
b) Someone making the very major mistake of kidnapping and enslaving his wife
c) An iron code of ethics

Which brings me to the second question, of why I find it a cut below.

The short answer is that at his best, Gemmell could bring a tremendous clarity to the emotional cost of all the violence, and the things that brought the willing to the slaughterhouse and how they and the unwilling alike lived with what happened.

Now Gemmell by no means stinted paying attention to Rowena, Druss’ wife. But she and Druss are about the only ones who feel truly explored as Druss’ wanderings means he flits in and out of people’s lives. The lack of realisation of the other characters means the story just doesn’t have enough oomph for me. The philandering poet Sieben gets plenty of page time and good lines, but he’s not as vitally alive as he is in The Legend of Deathwalker. The story also perhaps lacks a little of the moral complexity Gemmell could bring to works too when he wrote stories that were less clearly good vs evil.

Did I absolutely enjoy my latest reread of this book? Yes. But I think the thing about David Gemmell books is that his style always made it easy to spot stylistic flaws. Most Gemmell books sweep me up so powerfully that even when I spot them, I couldn’t give a flying fuck. With The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend, I wasn’t swept up in the same way. It was just a good book with flaws, for better and for worse.

8 thoughts on “The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend by David Gemmell

  1. First Chronicles is my favourite Gemmell book. Love the episodic feel and the moral quandary of Druss’ code leading him to questionable deeds. Though I think it could be improved by having Legend of Deathwalker inserted in the right place. Maybe for an omnibus edition.

    Love seeing more Gemmell content out there. Reminds me I should reread at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahh, I can see how you like it if you like that episodic thing – which rarely works that great for me, should have put that in the review.

      But what questionable deeds does Druss’ code lead him to in your eyes?


      1. It’s been a long while since I read it last, but I recall him being determined to reclaim Rowena, even though she is happily married to another man. Granted there is an enchantment involved, but he’s still ready to destroy a happy marriage for the sake of his own happiness.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ah you see, that’s one of the ones that makes me think its fall short. Yeah, Druss learns about the marriage, and says he’s ready to destroy it but… we never see him put to the test, or even have to think about it for more than a couple of nights. The scenario is raised, then shelved without answer.


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