Ravenheart, by David Gemmell

ravenheart-by-david-gemmellGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Ballantine
Published: 2001
Reviewer Rating: threehalfstars
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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Ravenheart is the third volume in Gemmell’s Rigante series. Eight hundred years have passed since the last installment, Midnight Falcon. Now the Rigante have lost their freedom and exist under the harsh rule of the Varlish. Hope for the future rests on the shoulders of two: a giant Rigante fighter haunted by his failure to save his best friend and a youth just on the cusp of manhood. Unlike most of Gemmell’s other offerings, which pretty much stand alone, this one is only half the story, with the rest forthcoming in his next Rigante book, Storm Rider. If having a book just sort of stop rather than conclude bothers you, perhaps you should wait for the release of the next volume and read them both at once.

Gemmell is a formula writer, and anyone who’s read more than a few of his books will immediately recognize his characters: the Older Hero trying to overcome his violent past, the Almost Hero on the edge of manhood, the Strong Woman, the Magic Woman, the Evil Ruler and his Minions, the Outlaw with a Hidden Heart of Gold…. They’re all here in Ravenheart

Gemmel’s typical plot: a handful of Good Men must overcome overwhelming odds and make great personal sacrifice in order to achieve the Greater Good, with plenty of fight scenes and hard decisions along the way.

Every now and then, maybe twice a month, I order a pizza from my favorite pizza shop down the road. I know the shop, I know their product, and I know I will enjoy it. If I ate one of those pizzas every day, it wouldn’t be long before I was sick of them. This is what Gemmell’s books are like.

The names change, the plot shifts a bit left or right, but when you pick one up you pretty much know what you’re in for. Space them out and enjoy them for what they are: heroic fantasy as it’s most basic, where men are men, women are women (no Equal Opportunity here), swords flash and heads roll.

Despite the repetitive archetypes, Gemmell manages to inject personality and conflict into his characters. Granted, the personality and conflict is pretty much the same from book to book, but generally you’ll like who you’re supposed to like, hate who you’re supposed to hate, cheer at the appropriate moments and not feel bad about it.

If there’s one major complaint I have about Gemmell, it’s that he comes across as a misogynist (though not as bad as Feist). His women characters seem to be five in type: the Strong Woman who refuses to admit her love until it’s too late, the Magic Woman who has sacrificed everything for the sake of her magic, the Prostitute (though here she barely earns more than than a mention), the Good-hearted Outcast/Servant who deserves better, and the Young Innocent In Love. Generally, in a Gemmell book, Bad Things happen to women, and they aren’t as active as they should be in determining their fate and in their influence on the resolution of the stories he tells.

There’s no deep philosophy here. Read this one if you like mind-candy heroic fantasy obviously intended for male readers–nobody is doing this type of book better right now than Gemmell. If such a book isn’t your cup of tea… well, there’s plenty of stuff by Roberson, Rawn, MZB and others like them out there.

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