Hero in the Shadows, by David Gemmell

hero-in-the-shadows-by-david-gemmell coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Ballantine
Published: 2000
Reviewer Rating: two stars
Book Review by Fraser Ronald

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I find myself quite capable of containing the excitement. I have to go on record before I begin my review as not being impressed by any of Mr. Gemmell’s Waylander novels so far. Granted, I’ve only read three (Waylander, Waylander II and now Hero in the Shadows), so maybe there is a gem that I’m missing. I’m not saying they’re bad, I’m just saying they aren’t memorable or moving.

That said, I recognize Mr. Gemmell is a good writer. Heck, I might even go so far as to say great. I hesitate to say great, because that sounds a little too like hyperbole. However, having been impressed with Mr. Gemmell’s work on his Rigante novels (repetition of themes aside), I am always hopeful whenever I get my hands a new novel. He has never failed to entertain me, but he has failed, a couple of times, to hold my interest.

Let me explain that. Some forms of entertainment can hold me transfixed, unable to hold even the simplest of conversations (or want to). Some books enthrall me, and make me miss subway stops. Some forms of entertainment amuse me, keep me occupied, but if someone starts talking to me, or I find something better to read, I can easily set these amusements aside. For the most part, Mr. Gemmell’s non-Rigante books have fallen, so far, into the latter category. They are amusing, entertaining, but any shiny object will distract me.

Hero in the Shadows has little new. It’s Waylander, still introspective about his role in the world, still deadly, still Waylander. The characters introduced are mostly good, though I read this novel back to back with Winter Warriors, and the wizard character in each is pretty much a carbon copy. The threat of the looming evil is also redundant — I just read this. The looming evil is so similar that I wonder if perhaps this isn’t the same situation told from different vantage points — such as Glen Cook did to great effect with Reap the East Wind and An Ill Fate Marshalling — but no, these are separate, nearly identical threats.

So, the plot is repetitive. It might not have been so bad had I read these stories years apart (as they were published), but even still the ‘ancient evil rising to threaten the world’ is rather hackneyed in fantasy fiction. I’d figure heroes would start to get a bit weary of the whole thing. “What, another ancient evil? Geez, why can’t it just be an invading army or a plot to kill the queen?”

The characters, for the most part, are well drawn, but failed to really come to life. I had little real connection to them, and they entertained me in the way Arnold entertains me in movies like Commando or Eraser — meaning I don’t believe for a second he’s that character, and the character’s themselves are little more than devices to get to the next action set-piece. The only character that I had a genuine interest in was Yu Yu Liang, the ‘chosen one’ of this particular prophecy, but really just a swaggering bandit with a big mouth but little else. He made me smile, but I had no more invested in him than any of the other characters, I simply liked him more.

So, pretty bad, eh? Well, not really. I would say disappointing. I got entertainment, but I had hoped for more. I know what Gemmell can do, and so hope springs eternal. I don’t consider the time spent reading this book to be wasted. I wouldn’t, however, recommend it to anyone who hadn’t already expressed an appreciation of Gemmell’s other Waylander or Drenai works. While enjoyable, there are so many other books out there that I would recommend first.

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