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David Gemmell
Bantam Press, 446 pages

David Gemmell
David Gemmell was born in London, England, in 1948. Expelled from school at 16 for organizing a gambling syndicate, he worked as a day labourer and a bouncer at night. He has also worked as a freelance journalist for the London Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, and Daily Express. His first novel, Legend, was published in 1984 and has remained in print ever since. He became a full-time writer in 1986.

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A review by Ian Nichols

There's nothing quite like a good war to keep you interested, and David Gemmel creates a terrific one in Stormrider. It is a war of extinction, the extinction of the Rigante by the Varlish, their deadly opponents. It is a conflict which has endured for years, and driven the Rigante into the high mountains, where their greatest leader, the outlaw Ravenheart, continues the fight against the conquerors.

Of course, every war must have its heroes and villains. In this case, however, there are heroes on both sides, for this is a most unusual war. The Varlish are spurred into war by the machinations of a dead man and a fanatic. Winter Kay, a general of the Redeemers, the mystic and brutal branch of the Varlish army, discovers and is seduced by The Orb of Kranos. This is the skull of a dead king, who was also a mighty sorcerer. Using Kay as his willing puppet, Cernunnos, the dead king, manipulates events so that he will be returned to the North, the country of the Rigante, which is his long-lost seat of power. When he achieves this, he can use the body of a human to be his host, and become like unto a god, immortal and invulnerable. But first the Rigante, whose own mystics are aware of the threat, must be destroyed.

There is battle enough, and magic enough, in this novel to satisfy the most bloodthirsty of readers, but there is more, far more to it. Gemmel weaves sub-plots into the story with masterful skill, stories of failure and redemption, of coming-of-age, of reconciliation and love. Far from being a sober and tense account of war and evil, there is much humour and laughter, much of it derived from the earthy characterisation. It is not in the interest of fiction to create characters of overpowering reality, but it is in its interest to give characters a verisimilitude which allows for the heightening of those aspects most necessary for both the story and the moral. Gemmel does this with ease, and his characters achieve the ideal of being deft sketches, but with purpose and life.

Stormrider seems to say that war happens to everyone, not just villains and heroes. Both sides are shown as human, as vulnerable, and as capable of heroism. Even the redeemers and Winter Kay, the fanatics who torture and kill to achieve their ends, are shown as more seduced by the power of Cernunno than seeking this power. It is perhaps in this that the moral of the novel emerges. We are all vulnerable to the seduction of power, and it is only in resisting this seduction, as is the case in the final sacrifice which is made to save the Rigante, the Varlish and the world itself, that we achieve true heroism.

Without a doubt, the novel is a worthy addition to David Gemmel's list of titles. Without a doubt, Stormrider is one which is worth buying.

Copyright © 2003 Ian Nichols

Ian Nichols is studying for his Masters degree at the University of Western Australia, and is fortunate enough to be studying in the area he most enjoys; Fantasy and Science Fiction.

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