by David Gemmell
Fantasy | 321 Pages | Published by Orbit in 2014
| Rating |
David Gemmell is one of those authors that every fan of fantasy fiction should have read; unbelievably this was my first. Needless to say, I need more Gemmell in my life! Morningstar was a fantastic introduction into his writing; exciting, fast paced, and overflowing with ne’er-do-wells and reluctant heroes. If, like me, you need a starting point for the Gemmell catalogue, Morningstar will not disappoint.
The Angostin forces are storming the Highlands; murdering, pillaging and laying waste to everything that lies in their path. The people are deserting their towns and villages, fleeing into the bandit infested forests beyond; they have but one hope – the Morningstar.
Owen Odell is a storyteller, a worker of magic who spins his power into the tales he tells. A chance encounter in a darkened alley changes his life forever when he meets Jarek Mace – liar, thief and outlaw. With war threatening the Highlands, Odell finds himself attached to Mace and his merry band of misfits who turn their acts of banditry against the invading Angostin force – a mutually beneficial arrangement which both rallies the people and makes Mace a hell of a lot richer.
Rumour is rife, could Mace be the legendary Morningstar come to save the oppressed masses? Through skirmishes and battles, and facing darker forces than just an invading army, the ultimate question remains – will Mace run (presumably with all your gold and quite possibly with your wife) or will he stand and fight?
Morningstar weaves history, myth and legend into a fantasy narrative to create a rich and almost believable tale. The overriding conflict of the Angostins and the Highlanders is reminiscent of Edward I’s campaigns against Scotland and Wales, creating a vivid backdrop for a story which underlines the struggle between freedom and oppression. The clear influences from history give the story a sense of realism which may have otherwise been lost in a tale of magic and supernatural evil.
The comparisons to Robin Hood are similarly well deserved; outlaws and banditry abound, refuge is sought in the depths of the forests, and rich Angostins are relieved of their gold which, ever reluctantly, is bestowed upon the poor masses. This is a reweaving of the Robin Hood legend – a Robin Hood who despite all intentions to murder and pillage ends up, however unintentionally, helping others and fighting for the common good.
Gemmell’s writing is fast paced and fluid, describing the world and its inhabitants in vivid detail. The whole band of characters are given dimensionality; cutthroats, prostitutes and thieves alike. The first person perspective, in which the narrator is describing the life of another character, works incredibly well. Owen Odell plays the part of naïve narrator superbly; he is the moral compass of the tale caught up in a world completely alien to him, and this secondary perspective works to emphasise the complexity and duality of Jarek Mace’s character.
Mace is a wonderfully reluctant hero. His motives are always questionable, his true feelings hidden from us. There may have been more fights and battles if the narrative had been told from Mace’s perspective but we would have lost the most important and vital part of the story. The true beauty of this tale is that we never know what Mace is really thinking or what his intentions are, and despite any good or bad outcome we can never know if it was done for completely selfless or selfish reasons. Jarek Mace will always remain an enigma.
Morningstar is a short but gripping tale full of intriguing characters. The momentum is carried with excitement and humour and ultimately reaches a satisfying, if somewhat hurried, conclusion. My first foray into the work of Gemmell was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and one which had me reaching for the next Gemmell book as soon as Morningstar closed.
Knights of Dark Renown, also by David Gemmell, will be reviewed shortly.