Sunday, September 02, 2001

Review: "Ravenheart" by David Gemmell

David Gemmell may be the best writer you've never heard of.

The British fantasy writer has made a name for himself in his native Europe, but he's only recently found a measure of success in the United States.

In his newest book, "Ravenheart" (Del Rey), Gemmell returns to the world of the Rigante for a third tale. Set in Gemmell's version of 17th century Britain, the book weaves the story of Jaim Grymauch, a hero of the outlawed Rigante clan, and his young protégé Kaelin Ring.

For years, the Varlish have subjugated the highlanders, but recently things have become worse. Since his wife had a tryst with Kaelin's father, the Moidart has become even more vicious toward the clans. Even the Moidart's own son is disturbed by the Varlish leader's actions, but no one has the nerve to stand up to the man who has a penchant for hangings.

Things soon begin to go badly for the Varlish. A young girl is raped and murdered because she openly associates with a young clansman - namely Kaelin Ring. Certain that Varlish justice won't punish the murderers, Kaelin tracks them down and delivers his own brand of justice. That sets off a chain of events that sends Kaelin fleeing into the northern mountains and escalates tensions between the two races. It takes only a few more Varlish acts to push those tensions to the breaking point.

One of the most unique facets of Gemmell's work is his approach to series fiction. He understands something about true heroes that other writers often miss - that a hero is not a superhuman figure who has adventure after adventure, but rather an ordinary person who reacts extraordinarily when there is a need. Though the books of his series are set in the same world, they tell the story of a hero in a volume or two and then move forward, often skipping generations between books to get to the next time of crisis and the rise of the next hero.

Gemmell also understands the breathless adventure that is at the heart of the fantasy genre. His novels are rousing tales of heroism, honor and legend with few wasted words. Events move quickly, keeping the reader engrossed in the action.

I discovered Gemmell several years ago and have since mowed through most of his 25 books. So far I haven't been disappointed by any of them. "Ravenheart" continues the trend with characters and a story that grabbed me from the very beginning and held me spellbound until the last word. It manages to pack a punch and at the same time whet your appetite for what is to come with the Rigante.

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