Midnight Falcon, by David Gemmell

midnight-falcon-by-david-gemmell coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Ballantine
Published: 2001
Reviewer Rating: four and a half stars
Book Review by Fraser Ronald

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Following many years after the story told in Sword in the Storm, Midnight Falcon is the second of David Gemmell’s Rigante books. While Sword in the Storm had many similarities to the Arthurian legend while maintaining a distance from it, and preserving its own uniqueness, Midnight Falcon does the same with the movie Gladiator. There are many elements of Gladiator in Midnight Falcon, not the least of which is the talented fighter becoming the perfect gladiator. However, while there are similarities, Midnight Falcon is even farther removed from Gladiator than Sword in the Storm was from Morte d’Arthur.

While Sword in the Storm was about Connavar, Midnight Falcon is the story of his bastard son, Bane. I think here is the place where I’m going to register my major complaint about the book. I just could not gt used to having two major characters called Bane and Rage. It was like reading a super-hero comic book. Now there’s a time and a place for comic books, and this wasn’t it. I think there could have been other names that could have been used rather than Bane and Rage in their English forms. Since the Rigante are based on the Celts (possibly, specifically, the Scots), the Gaelic word for Bane could have been used for that character. Since Rage is supposed to be a Stone (read Roman) gladiator, a Latin term for Rage or anger could have been used. It was a small thing, but I never got used to it. Maybe I need a life or something.

Now, since that’s my big problem with the book, you should be able to figure out that the rest of it is pretty good. It is. This book is as entertaining as its predecessor. Much as Sword in the Storm tells of Connavar’s growth to manhood, this is the story of Bane’s maturation. As with Connavar (and I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but as with Kaelin in the next book) it takes the murder of the woman he loves to set Bane on the path to his destiny. That path leads through the gladiatorial pits of Stone, the stand-in for Rome.

The characters in this novel are well developed. There are traces of stereotype still lingering on some of the characters, as there are traces of characters from the previous work, however these quibbles are minor. These are not cookie-cutter or cardboard-cut-out characters. These characters breath and live. If you found the characterization of the first book in the series compelling, you will also enjoy the characters introduced here, as well as the ones returning.

The overarching plot is similar to Sword in the Storm, but the specifics are different. This is the story of a bitter young man who becomes an adult. Outcast from his own people, Bane ties himself loyally to those friends he has, rightly or wrongly. As he learns about the world, he learns about himself, and he grows. There are surprises both happy and sad, enough to keep you guessing, keep you tied into the story. This is one of those books that might make you miss a subway stop.

This book has both the emotional and the action scenes, in good enough proportions that the reader is never tired of one or the other. There are some great battle scenes, scenes that in words reminds me of what Ridley Scott created with moving pictures in Gladiator. This had less of the mythic overtones of Sword in the Storm in the beginning, but myth and legend are not expunged, merely awaiting the right moment to surface. There is an interesting circular stream that ties in well to the previous book, but to say more might give too much away. Many readers will soon catch on to what is happening, and there is some satisfaction in knowing that Mr. Gemmell has given the reader the clues necessary to tie everything together.

Given the often circular nature of myth, it seems fitting that Mr. Gemmell has imprinted this onto the first two Rigante novels. I’m about half-way through the last of the three novels, and there are links, but being as Morte d’Arthur is 800 years after Midnight Falcon, the stories are not as closely tied as the first two in the series. The linkages are there, and any of the three books can be read independently, but there is a definite rhythm to the first two that makes them a logical duology, if that is even a word. Due to the distance of time between the first two and the last of the Rigante novels, reading Sword in the Storm and Midnight Falcon back to back makes for a better experience than reading either separately. So far, with Ravenheart, it seems that the first two are of interest due to the impact of events and the dimly recalled history rather than direct relation.

In the end, I would recommend this book as highly as Sword in the Storm, but for different reasons. Sword in the Storm is a much more conventional story. Midnight Falcon reaches the same destination from the same origin, however the path is different enough to create a different experience. Any reader of Sword in the Storm will most likely enjoy Midnight Falcon. I believe that most readers of fantasy would also enjoy Midnight Falcon. I’d say it would be a sound investment–cold hard cash for satisfying entertainment. And, heck, how much is a movie ticket or a case of beer compared to a novel anyway?

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