I decided to pick up David Gemmell’s Legend after reading good things about his action prose on Reddit. As a debut novel, I found the prose pretty much as you would expect: uneven. Some moments felt like scenes from the best episodes of Game of Thrones, while others felt like I was reading the first draft of Eragon.
Dialogue was definitely his weakest point. I found myself falling out of the story again and again because I kept thinking “who the hell talks that way–are these guys millennials or battle-hardened warriors?”
Characters were definitely the highlight of the novel, although the female characters could certainly have used a bit more work.
Other gripes include a disappointing Act III, deus ex machinas, and strange and sudden turns of personality in the characters.
I’m guessing Gemmell got a lot better in his later works, as this was his first novel, and you should almost never judge a writer based on their first works. But then again, this is also his most famous publication.
But enough about what sucked. The thing that really surprised me was that I was able to tear through this novel in three sittings. Despite all the issues mentioned above, at no point did I struggle to keep reading. That, ladies and gentlemen, is an amazing feat of writing. Especially for a fantasy novel published in the 80s.
I’m terrible at finishing books that get even a little tedious. There are as many half-finished books on my kindle as there are finished ones. The reason I did not have this issue with Legend is because at no point in time did I get bored. The pacing of the story is FAST. Gemmell skips all the boring parts of the story with chapter breaks, and his prose doesn’t spend paragraphs on monotonous descriptions.
Exposition and backstory is generally a major trap in fantasy writing because the author has to explain the backstory and how the magic works and the histories of all the power players. But Gemmell sidesteps this by starting very simple. By the time you start getting these details, you are already invested in the characters.
I strongly believe Gemmell’s pacing is the reason why Legend is a popular fantasy novel. The story itself isn’t all that different from what you’ve read before. Though perhaps it was original in its time.
There are several books in the series, but Legend was written at a standalone novel, so you can still pick it up without signing up to start a library. Recommended if you want a fast fantasy read that’ll keep you hooked.