Skilgannon the Damned is one of the mightiest warriors in the world, yet every day the memory of the innocents he has killed haunt him. He seeks solace in becoming a monk, but as alliances break down and wars sweep the land, mob violence comes to the monastery and Skilgannon once again takes up the swords of Night and Day. The swords, however, are cursed with an enchantment that corrupts the soul of the one who wields them, and the old witch who gave Skilgannon the swords–and who cursed them–is behind the political machinations that threaten to drive Skilgannon into the hands of his greatest enemy: his old lover, the queen of Naashan.
I’d heard about the Heroic Fantasy subgenre from English 318 last year, and thought I’d try it out. I’d heard a lot of good things about David Gemmell, both from Brandon Sanderson and Orson Scott Card, so I kept an eye out for his books at the used bookstore and found this one.
White Wolf was an enjoyable read. I particularly enjoyed the moral and ethical questions that Gemmell raised, both during the fight scenes and between the fight scenes in the dialogue between the characters. Gemmell will often come right out and have his characters directly address issues like bravery and cowardice, death and sacrifice. Far from sounding strained or pedantic, these were my favorite parts of the novel, mostly because the characters were struggling with these issues themselves. Druss and Skilgannon, of course, have a little more experience and know the answers to these things, but the boy Rabalyn, a recently orphaned boy who has nowhere to go but follow the warriors and become one of them, goes through a very interesting growth cycle.
Gemmell also did a very good job creating an evil villain and raising the stakes. As Skilgannon’s adventure winds in and out, he finds himself on a mission to save a girl who has been tortured to the point where she may lose her very humanity. However, the villains are not all black and white. Technically, Skilgannon himself is a villain, or maybe a post-villain, and the queen of Naashan is a similarly complicated character. Gemmell’s world is populated with uber-heroes and uber-villains, but there are plent of people who fall in the middle as well.
The biggest issue I had with this novel was the plot. It seemed to follow a loose quest structure, but it had a weak beginning and middle. Skilgannon is supposedly onthis quest to resurrect this girl he once loved, but prior to this he’s been living the monastic lifestyle, trying to escape the world. There is no clear moment where he says “I’m going to resurrect this girl,” yet supposedly this is supposed to drive him to travel hundreds of miles to get somewhere and do something.
The middle is littered with flashbacks–they are everywhere. While the flashbacks are interesting and engaging, they interrupt the action in the present of the narrative, which often gave me the sense that nothing notable was really happening. I started to lose motivation to read the book somewhere in the middle, just because I had lost that sense of plot progress. If it weren’t for the characters and the conflict, I probably would have given up on it altogether.
However, I really enjoyed this book. The last third was really good, and the epilogue was fantastic! Probably the best epilogue I’ve ever read. I wish I could say more, but it would give out major spoilers. It was just a very well written, very well done epilogue.
I’d definitely be interested in reading some more Gemmell, though he’s not on the top of my list right now. When I do pick him up again, I’d like to start with Legend, the novel that launched him into the big time. I hear that’s a good one.