The David Gemmell Legend Award

To those unaware, a new award for fantasy literature has been created, the David Gemmell Legend Award. The award is named in honor of deceased author David Gemmell’s first published novel, Legend. The award is meant to be given to a written work that is in the spirit of David Gemmell’s work.

Personally, I couldn’t be happier that this award has been created. Before his untimely death in 2006, David Gemmell was one of the modern masters of heroic fantasy. Legend, his most famous novel, ranks as one of my favorite fantasy tales ever. Gemmell was a rather prolific author, producing over 30 novels in a little over 20 years. Gemmell was a British author, and while he regularly cracked the London Bestseller lists, it took over a decade before his works were widely published in the States by Del Rey, allowing American audiences to become familiar with him.

If you haven’t picked up a work by Gemmell yet, I’d highly recommend you start with Legend. Legend is part of The Drenai Saga, which spans 11 books. While there are recurring characters in some of the books, each novel holds up as a self-contained story. Gemmell’s Drenai books (and many of his other works) are gritty, action-packed tales often dealing with themes of honor, heroism, and loyalty. His battle scenes are clearly influenced by the sword & sorcery tales of Robert E. Howard, meaning they are visceral, fast-paced, gripping, and yes, often bloody.

The story behind the writing of Legend is rather interesting. Gemmell was misdiagnosed with cancer and decided to write Legend (originally called The Siege of Dros Delnoch) to take his mind off his illness and because he had aspirations of being a published novelist and this seemed like his last chance. The tale is one of a city besieged by overwhelming odds, and besides being a rousing tale of adventure, it can also be viewed as a metaphor for his battle against cancer. Thankfully for Mr. Gemmell, there was no cancer and Legend launched his career. The book was first released in 1984 and remains in print over 20 years later.

To tell you a little about the actual book, the fortress of Dros Delnoch represents the last remnant of a faded empire. A barbarian horde known as the Nadir threatens to overrun it. In desperation, the inhabitants of Dros Delnoch turn to one of the greatest heroes the world has ever known, the figure of Druss. Druss is a he-man sort, comparable to Conan in terms of physical stature and prowess, a man who has carved a name for himself throughout the world through decades of awesome deeds. Only in this tale, Druss is 59 years old. He has a balky knee. Age is creeping up on him. His best years are behind him. But duty calls and Druss has never been one to duck a battle. What follows is one of the bloodiest fantasy novels I’ve read. The action is practically constant and the imagery is extremely crisp. Gemmell also spends far more time on character development than Robert E. Howard did with Conan. And while Druss is as much of a warrior as Conan, Gemmell clearly demonstrates this character is no knock-off. He is a worthy addition to the annals of sword & sorcery/heroic fiction, and Legend is a successful and rousing tale on a multitude of levels.

Coming back to the actual award, I should note that the fans get to vote on this one, so if you’d like to add your voice, voting opens on December 26th. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that Tor.com’s Jane Lindskold is among the nominees for the inaugural David Gemmel Legend Award for her latest novel, Thirteen Orphans. Congrats and good luck!

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