Sunday, June 20, 2004

Review: "The Swords of Night and Day" by David Gemmell

With "The Swords of Night and Day" ($24.95, Del Rey), David Gemmell returns to the story of a fan favorite, but with a twist.

It's been a thousand years since the death of the legendary swordsman Skilgannon the Damned when he wakes up in a strange room and a strange body. It's his own body, but without the familiar aches and pains of age and old wounds he remembers. It's a young, fit body - that of the swordsman in his prime.

Skilgannon soon finds out why he's here when he meets Landis Khan, the man that used a combination of technology and magic to create a new body from bones found in Skilgannon's tomb and bring his soul back from where it was lost in the Void, the in-between world. Now he expects the swordsman to take up the cursed Swords of Night and Day that he laid aside more than a millienium ago and fulfill an ancient prophecy of the priestess Ustarte by bringing an end to the tyrannical reign of the Eternal.

But there are more surprises waiting for Skilgannon. He's not the only reborn in the picture. Though they lack the souls of the original heroes, there are duplicates of several legendary figures roaming the landscape, including a direct descendent of Skilgannon, with just as much skill and a lot less sanity. But the biggest blow of all comes in the identity of the Eternal herself - Skilgannon's greatest love and worst enemy.

Unlike a lot of fantasy writers who deal in series, Gemmell knows how to do it right. Even when he returns to familiar characters, there's always a twist, and in this book, it's a big one.

Not only does the story put Skilgannon in a new light, it puts the entire world of the Drenai in a new light. As expected from Gemmell, "The Swords of Night and Day" is a rousing adventure story with plenty of action and swordplay. But this book has a more subtle subplot that puts a science fiction spin on the story.

While the main story is fun, readers will find themselves wondering about other elements of the story and the ancient past of the Drenai world. The technology represented in recreating people from bones will sound eerily familiar to recent headlines on cloning. Portions of the prophecy regarding the golden shield and the silver eagle that travels the stars and communicates with the magicians will also hit home.

Though I've been a fan of the Drenai series from the beginning, this book is the first time I've thought about that world in these terms. The possibilities are almost more interesting than the story, which is quite good in its own right.

If you haven't read Gemmell before, now is the time to give him a shot. You're missing out on one of the best fantasists in the business.

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