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Friday, March 16, 2007

The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend by David Gemmell

Druss the Axeman, the Captain of the Axe, the Silver Slayer, Deathwalker, these are the names legend has given him. Druss the Legend is an indomitable warrior, armed with the great battle axe, Snaga. Snaga the Sender, the Blades of No Return, an axe possessed by a demon that gives it the power to cut anything and makes the wielder almost unbeatable.

The first book telling of Druss was called Legend. It told of Druss in his sixties, called to defend his homeland against an invasion of barbarian hordes. It tells of his death and hints and his past. He is an unstoppable warrior with an iron code. He will not do evil, nor stand still while evil is done. His world is black and white and he has little tolerance for those that attempt to paint it in shades of grey. He is a man that has lived a life of violence, but has no remorse for it. He is a warrior without peer and a friend that will never flinch or falter.

The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend tells the story of his beginning. Druss is a young man, recently married to Rowena. He lives in a small mountain village on the frontier of Drenai. He is not popular in the town. The people fear him for his great size and temper. Rowena is the only person he has ever allowed close to him and he loves her dearly.

While he is working in the mountains felling trees, the village is attacked by bandits. Everybody is killed but the young women, who are gathered as slaves. Druss uses his axe to defend himself and a young woman and they are the only survivors. He returns in time to find his dying father, who tells him where to find a family heirloom hidden in the house for Druss has a secret. He is the grandson of Bardan the Slayer. Bardan’s axe and armor are hidden in his father’s house.

Druss is devastated by the loss of his wife. He dons Bardan’s armor, grabs the axe and heads off to the rescue. Before he can leave the town, he encounters Shadak the Hunter, whose son was slain by the same raiders. Shadak offers to help him, and in so doing gives Druss his own code for life. "Never violate a woman, nor harm a child. Do not lie, cheat or steal. These are things for lesser men. Protect the weak against the evil strong. And never allow thoughts of gain lead you into the pursuit of evil." Druss adopts this code as his own and it lays the foundation for his actions for the rest of his life.

Druss follows the slavers and in a nighttime raid, they attack and he kills nineteen of the raiders, freeing the women. But his wife is not among them. She was taken by the raider’s leader Collan to Mashrapur. Druss continues to Mashrapur to find her. In Mashrapur, he enters a fight contest and fights Borcha, the local champion. He meets Bodasen, a Ventrian General who is in the town to hire mercenaries to fight a war. Bodasen sets up a meeting between Collan and Druss to get Rowena back, but Collan reneges on the deal and Druss gets severely wounded. Collan is killed but Rowena is taken away on a ship. Druss finds out later that the ship is sunk by pirates under the employ of the Empire of Nashaan. Nashaan is fighting Ventria and Ventria is losing badly. Druss decides that Nashaan is his enemy and he decides to fight for them.

Druss fights for Ventria, becoming the Emperor Gorben’s champion. Druss leads attack after attack and his status as a warrior grows, but the killing gives the demon that possesses Snaga power. The power of the axe drove his grandfather insane and it is starting to get to Druss, too. Druss’ iron code and indomitable will hold the madness at bay and Druss uses the power to lead the defeat of Nashaan’s armies.

Along the way he finds out that his wife is not dead, but suffers from amnesia. His hunt begins again. He finally finds her, but with her memory loss, she has married the General of the last Nashaanite army, Michanek. In the final battle, Michanek dies and Rowena attempts suicide. A priest saves her from the poison but her spirit is lost in the netherworld. Druss enters the netherworld to bring her back. Ultimately it leads to a confrontation with the demon in the axe. Druss defeats the demon and Snaga is no longer possessed. Rowena and Druss are reunited after seven years and they return home.

The last part of the book tells the story of Druss in his forties, standing with his countrymen against the Empire of Ventria. The Ventrian Emperor, Gorben, has been given a sword that is possessed by another demon, but has given in to the insanity. He has attacked and invaded the other countries and has turned into the same kind of evil that Druss helped him defeat years earlier. Druss stands against the Empire, fighting men that he calls friends. Druss and a handful of warriors defeat the Ventrians at Skeln Pass in a battle reminiscent of the Spartans defeating the Persians.

This book is more a series of short stories than a whole story. Each part is a self contained whole the only common thread is Druss’ search for Rowena. The last part seems a bit abbreviated, but still it does what it meant to do, which is tell the back story of Druss. I enjoyed the book and recommend it along with all the Drenai Tales series. Gemmell’s world is richly created and inhabited by wonderful characters. I actually feel saddened when I reach the end of his books, because I want more to read. Gemmell died last year, so there will be no more Drenai Tales written.

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