Dark Moon, by David Gemmell

Dark Moon, by David Gemmell coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Ballantine
Published: 2003
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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David Gemmell is comfort food for speculative fiction fans who crave old style heroic fantasy. Although some of his earlier work totters on (and sometimes fall off) the edge of mediocrity, I’ve found his most recent books to be thoroughly enjoyable despite their rehashing of characters and themes. DarkMoon was no exception.

Four races once shared the Earth: the peaceful Eldarin, the mystical healers the Oltor, hive-like and cruel Daroth, and humans. The Daroth destroyed the Oltor and threatened the Eldarin as well, but the Elsarin cast a powerful spell, banishing the Daroth back to their original plane of existence while at the same time sealing themselves and their lands inside a magic globe called the Pearl. The disappearance of the Eldarin and resulting lack of other races caused humankind (who in many ways resemble the Daroth-the comparison is made often) to war among themselves.

War had raged for seven years between the Four Duchies when Duke Sirano of Romark came into the possession of the Pearl. He used used ancient sorceries in an attempt to unlocks its powers. The result opened a gate into the Daroth plane, and once again the almost indestructible Daroth rode forth and began wholesale slaughter (and consumption) of the human race.

All that stand against them are three archetypal heroes: Tarantio who, when possessed by his alter ego Dace, is the world’s deadliest swordsman; Karis, formerly a whore and now a mercenary and general of the Four Duchies last army; and Duvodas, a human sworn to peace who had lived among the Elarin and learned their magic. These three must combine their talents in an effort to stop the Daroth before they complete their conquest of Four Duchies and ultimately begin to threaten the world. Along the way they face considerable personal challenges.

Gemmell paints his characters larger than life, yet he does so in a way that makes them relentlessly human. Their almost superhuman abilities are only matched by their completely human flaws. They struggle not only against the Daroth, but against each other and, even more importantly, against themselves. I like the way Gemmell sets everything up; the key to success lies not through the application of a character’s strengths, but through his or her ability to come to terms with thier flaws and weaknesses. It’s akin to Superman winning by using his not super powers, but instead by finding a way to use kryptonite in his favor. Gemmell’s minor characters are treated with the same level of detail, making them just as ‘real’ as the main ones.

There’s nothing new here – you’ve got your basic group of heroes fighting what appears to be a hopeless struggle against insurmountable odds. But it’s the story of their internal struggles, thier private triumphs and failures, that makes this such an enjoyable story. Victory in a Gemmell book is always costly, and here is no exception. You’ll cringe at the way he treats his characters, but find yourself cheering at their successes.

If you’ve read and enjoyed other Gemmell books, DarkMoon will bring you guaranteed pleasure. If you haven’t, this is a good place to start, as it’s not part of a series, but stands on its own. Gemmell’s style is more entertainment than literature, but finding a well-done, classic heroic fantasy in today’s market is a treat.

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