I’ve read this book many times, Skilgannon is one of my favourite Gemmell characters. I think David Gemmell pretty much defined the modern heroic fantasy novel. There are a lot of similarities in his books and this is no exception. We have a warrior who has a dark past. And the main character really does have a dark past.
We first meet Skilgannon as he’s been living as a monk for the past few years, trying to atone and make peace with that aforementioned past. Unfortunately the past doesn’t stay dead, war has arrived and he gets drawn into the conflict and he does what he does best which is kill people.
I love Skilgannon the Damned. He is utterly ruthless, seriously you would not want to antagonise this guy. He generally tries to do the honourable thing but in the past he’s not always been so successful.
The novel takes place over two timelines, the current conflict and then a series of flashbacks showing how he became the person he is today. We also have Druss. Druss is Gemmell’s original heroic character, a similar ruthless person but is much more the traditional hero. He has his code and he lives all his life by it, no matter the costs to himself or the people around him.
A feature of Gemmell’s writing is lots of POV characters, some of which might stick around the whole book, some in parts, and some maybe just the one little section. It’s a skill of his that even with the most fleeting character you get some sense of the person, their fears and motivations.
There is magic in the book but it is not a major part of it and it’s of the mystical side of things, though there are hints that it is not quite what it seems and these hints are somewhat expanded on in other books. The flashback scenes are interspersed in the main events which some readers might find off putting as they can break the tension somewhat. His fighting scenes are amazing, he can somehow show the skill and the speed of the action in just a few words, it’s always well done.
It’s a dark and brutal world, with ordinary people getting caught up in the machinations of the rich and powerful, and it shows how the whole cycle keeps repeating itself. His characters could be called evil depending on whose side you’re on and that’s one of the main points of his work, even one the ‘antagonists’ points out that our titular hero has caused way more deaths than they have, directly and indirectly, yet somehow we still root for Skilgannon and Druss.
There is nothing terribly original here but what is here is done superbly and if you like heroic fantasy at all check it out.
5 out of 5 stars